By Richard Roeper
Signal Contributing Writer
‘Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse’
Amazon Studios presents a film directed by Stefano Sollima. Rated R (for violence). Amazon Prime Video.
“He is more dangerous and effective than any man we have in the field.” — Typical action-movie cliche line from “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse.”
The Amazon Prime original movie “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” has to be considered one of the more disappointing films of 2021, given the long and rich history of entertaining adaptations of Clancy’s work and the vibrant star power of its leading man.
Michael B. Jordan has plenty of opportunities to fire off weapons and flex his muscles here, but delivers a surprisingly flat and underwhelming performance playing the kind of action antihero perfected by the likes of Denzel Washington, Bruce Willis, Scarlett Johansson … and we could go on forever. You know, the kind of guy or gal who often starts out as a cop or a soldier but becomes disillusioned with the system after a betrayal and goes ROGUE.
That’s exactly the kind of cliche, er, character, Jordan portrays here. We have seen John Kelly as a supporting player in previous film adaptations of Clancy books (Willem Dafoe played him in “Clear and Present Danger” in 1994, and Liev Schreiber in “The Sum of All Fears” in 2002), but now he is front and center in an origins story as the senior chief of an elite team of Navy SEALs sent into Syria to extract a CIA agent ostensibly being held captive by the Syrian army.
The ensuing rescue mission/shootout is indicative of many of the impressively choreographed but murky action sequences that permeate “Without Remorse,” where there’s lots of shouting and shooting and explosions and carnage, but it’s often difficult to keep up as we squint through the dust and darkness. One assumes the intention was to replicate the true chaos inherent in such situations, but that doesn’t necessarily make for clearly defined cinema.
We know there’s a problem with this mission from the get-go because it’s telegraphed via the duplicitous and smarmy CIA operative Robert Ritter (the chameleonic Jamie Bell, excellent as always), who smirks and calls John “sweetheart” and brushes off his concerns, even after it’s determined the bad guys aren’t soldiers, they’re ex-Russian military turned mercenaries, and they don’t play by any established rules of war. Nevertheless, the mission is a qualified success, with John and his colleagues gunning down numerous anonymous henchmen.
Cut to a few months later, with John and his eight-months-pregnant wife, Pam (Lauren London), hosting a cookout at their Washington, D.C., area home, which is a REALLY nice spread and looks more like something a wealthy senator might own. All is well and peaceful; in fact, John is retiring from the SEALs to take a lucrative and relatively safe gig doing private security. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, John could be chilling on the sofa later that night, listening to his favorite jams on his noise-canceling headphones, so he’s late to spring into action when a team of Russian assassins get their revenge for that Syrian mission by gunning down his wife and unborn child and seriously wounding John before he kills most of them. (One gets away.) As John puts it later, in one of the any lines that will ring familiar with fans of this genre: “They took everything from me!”
And off we go on our path of vengeance. After a brief period of mourning, John sets out on a mission to find out what’s really going on and to gain his revenge on anyone connected with the massacre in his home. For a time, “Without Remorse” becomes a prison picture, and not a very good one, as John fends off a myriad of corrupt guards with orders to kill him. And then he’s recruited by his longtime friend and former SEAL supervisor Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith) and the aforementioned CIA operative Ritter to lead ANOTHER dangerous mission, this time to Russia.
Based on the 1993 novel of the same name (with many updates and revisions) and directed by Stefano Sollima (“Sicario: Day of the Soldado”), “Without Remorse” was filmed largely in the legendary Babelsberg Film Studios just outside Berlin, and while you can see ample evidence of the preparation and the attention to detail and the large-scale ambition onscreen, it never quite jells into an involving character study or a fresh action tale.
Halfway through the end credits, there’s a scene setting up further adventures. Even this Easter egg is overwrought, as two characters stand side-by-side in the night, gazing at the Washington Monument and setting up the sequel. Here’s hoping when that happens, John is given a better vehicle to drive.
‘Percy Vs. Goliath’
Saban Films and Paramount Pictures present a film directed by Clark Johnson. Written by Garfield Lindsay Miller and Hilary Pryor. Rated PG-13 In theaters and on demand.
n a couple of occasions in the low-key charmer “Percy vs. Goliath,” it sounds like someone is calling Christopher Walken a “scene stealer,” which could hardly be considered inaccurate given Walken’s fantastically colorful career and his penchant for putting classic Walken spins on many a line.
“We’re watching you, scene stealer!” says a creepy guy in a van that rolls past Walken and then speeds off.
Oh wait. It’s not “scene stealer,” it’s SEED stealer. They’re calling Walken’s Percy Schmeiser a “seed stealer,” which is about the worst thing you can say about a farmer and can lead to lawsuits and financial ruin and shame and scandal.
Based on a true story and firmly in “Erin Brockovich” territory, “Percy vs. Goliath” is the fictionalized story of an old-fashioned Canadian farmer who has been working the family land for 50 years — like his father and his father’s father and his father’s father’s father did before him — but he sees his life turned upside down when he’s sued by the giant Monsanto Co. for allegedly using its patented, pesticide-resistant seeds without remuneration. Percy says those seeds must have blown onto his land from nearby farms, as seeds have done for millennia; Monsanto says it doesn’t matter HOW the seeds got there, and off to court (after court after court) we go.
With only an inexperienced local lawyer named Jackson Weaver (Zach Braff) on his side against a battery of high-priced attorneys led by the smug Rick Aarons (Martin Donovan, the excellent character actor who often plays the rigid bad guy), Percy is facing a huge uphill struggle, which we kinda figured out already given the title of this movie. But at the persistent urging of the ambitious and idealistic anti-GMO activist Rebecca Salcau (Christina Ricci), Percy becomes a reluctant but effectively sincere representative of small farmers everywhere.
Still, Monsanto wins time and again, as Percy racks up huge legal expenses and is forced to turn over all of his beloved seeds, which he has cultivated with care and innovation from year to year and crop to crop. His attorney and his grown son (Luke Kirby) and even Rebecca eventually urge Percy to give up and cut his losses, but it wouldn’t be much of a movie if Percy just surrendered to Goliath, right?
“Percy vs. Goliath” doesn’t have the visceral impact of the aforementioned “Erin Brokovich” or the more recent (and equally good) “Dark Waters.” In those films, corporate hubris and neglect resulted in shocking illnesses and gruesome deaths. Still, this is an involving and inspirational tale, highlighted by a Christopher Walken performance that is remarkably free of any showy tics or mannerisms and is a reminder Walken is a great actor first, a lovable caricature second.
Copyright 2020 Chicago Sun-Times