Over the last few years we’ve seen an emergence of new young action stars. And while many of them cut their teeth playing Marvel superheroes, they’ve also ventured out to make more grounded old-school action flicks. Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Mackie, and now Michael B. Jordan are (thankfully) too talented to be confined to one category. Yet they’ve shown themselves to have the physicality and steely presence to carry these kinds of movies and they are helping to breathe new life into the action genre.
Jordan’s latest film “Without Remorse” lands on Amazon Prime this weekend and it packs a formulaic old-school feel. It’s based on a 1993 Tom Clancy novel and is co-written for the screen by Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples. It’s helmed by Italian director Stefano Sollima who (along with Sheridan) also made the underrated “Sicario: Day of the Soldado”. Original slated for a theatrical release by Paramount, the distribution rights were sold to Amazon after multiple COVID-19 delays.
Jordan plays Senior Chief John Kelly, a member of an elite Navy SEAL team who we first meet in war-torn Aleppo, Syria. Their team is called in to carry out a cut-and-dry hostage rescue, but during the mission John’s unit are surprised by Russian military forces protecting a secret arms depot. An exchange of fire results in Russian casualties which sets in motion a series of events that will forever change John’s life.
Back home in Washington DC some three months later, John is contemplating leaving the military for a new job in private security. He and his pregnant wife Pam (Lauren London) are only a few weeks away from welcoming their first child and John is ready for life as a family man. Sadly that’s a pipe dream for lead characters in these types of movies. The past comes back to haunt John when armed Russian assassins, in retaliation for the Aleppo encounter, murder his wife and leave him for dead. John’s life is saved but all that he loved is gone.
After a lengthy and painful rehab, a tortured and revenge-thirsty John is determined to find the people responsible for the death of his wife and unborn child. “They crossed the line. They brought their war to my house” But he finds himself caught in the gears of bureaucracy as the CIA and Department of Defense hash out a ‘proper’ response. Guy Pearce plays a frustrated Secretary of Defense Thomas Clay who is willing to slightly step outside the lines to get answers. Jamie Bell plays the perpetual fly in the ointment Robert Ritter, a weaselly CIA agent who always knows more than he’s letting on and is constantly handcuffing any progress in the name of government protocol.
John’s quest for vengeance thrusts him head-first into a world of shady geopolitics, where heads of power secretly move their pawns around the global stage with impunity. At first John takes matters into his own hands, but that comes with consequences and proves to be too big for him to handle alone. So despite the concerns of his commander and close friend Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith), Jack is put on her team to go behind Russian lines to extract an ex-Spetznaz agent linked to the killing of his wife and others on American soil. But for him it quickly becomes a battle of personal payback versus mission integrity.
“Without Remorse” has a broader and more sprawling story than you might expect. Not just in terms of global scale, but in its telling of John’s story. It covers a lot of ground with the character and Jordan’s gritty determined performance carries us through. The political side of the story can get a little muddy and at times is too thinly written for us to be invested. But the meat and potatoes of the story is Jordan embodying a character driven by anger and pain yet trapped within a dubious yet powerful system that calls the shots.
And of course there is the action, consisting of several fiercely kinetic gun fights and a couple of exhilarating set pieces (my favorite being a superbly shot plane crash in the Barents Sea). Jordan sells it all with intensity and ferocity to spare. He leaves us wanting more which is a good thing considering the mid-credits scene we get. It not only hints at a franchise but teases a specific something that will leave a certain segment of entertainment fandom chomping at the bit. “Without Remorse” premieres Friday (April 30th) on Amazon Prime.
VERDICT – 4 STARS