Call him Rambro — just maybe not to his face. Sr. Chief John Kelly, the elite Navy SEAL portrayed with muscle-baring tenacity by Michael B. Jordan in Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse (★★★☆☆), can be relentless in defending his honor and avenging his family.
It turns out he’s not averse to being called by a different name, though, as this gripping action-thriller, directed by Stefano Sollima (Sicario: Day of the Soldado), depicts how Kelly came to be known as John Clark, a recurring character in Clancy’s Jack Ryan book series, also known as the “Ryanverse.”
Everybody gets a verse these days, including John Kelly/Clark, on a gun-blazing crusade to avenge the murder of his pregnant wife, Pam (Lauren London). Streamlining Clancy’s 1993 novel, and updating Kelly’s origins from Vietnam vet to modern-day action hero, Without Remorse sends the SEAL on several deadly missions around the globe. But retribution for Pam remains his one true focus, and his intensity never wavers. Neither does that of steely star and producer Jordan, hoping to kickstart a franchise, reportedly leading next to Clancy’s John Clark sequel, Rainbow Six.
Jordan’s off to a solid start, establishing the character’s impressive training, skills, and tactics, a righteous hero willing to employ lethal, even self-endangering, methods to take down a target.
As Kelly tells the Secretary of Defense (Guy Pearce), not as a boast but as a matter of fact, he’s the guy who’ll do what the government can’t. He interrogates a Russian agent inside a burning car, and tangles with another villain submerged in a sinking SUV.
Those SEAL skills come in handy as Kelly uncovers a nefarious international conspiracy, starting near his home in Washington, D.C. with a bold ambush staged in the drop-off lanes at Dulles Airport.
Sollima makes handsome use of locations from Germany to D.C., and keeps the audience inside the action with sharply choreographed hand-to-hand combat and stuntwork. The gunplay is constant, but not bloody — a bit of a cheat, given the film’s otherwise thoughtful attention to real-world detail.
The plot cheats, too, eliding crucial points in how Kelly engineers some of those last-second rescues and daring escapes. Although the fights, rescues, and escapes themselves, especially a couple of nail-biting underwater scenes, are consistently exciting.
Shooting at odd but effective camera angles — like a tense moment tracking Kelly, in excruciating pain from a gunshot wound, as he drags himself across the floor — Sollima brings a visceral feel to the action that doesn’t necessarily translate to the more low-key storytelling. The murder that Kelly’s avenging feels as perfunctory as in any B-movie action saga.
Also, the script doesn’t work hard to disguise the plot’s big reveals, nor give the non-lead characters much to do. Colman Domingo and Brett Gelman add nuanced work in brief appearances as Kelly’s pastor and nemesis, respectively, but Pearce doesn’t really engage as the film’s face of federal power, Secretary Clay.
Jodie Turner-Smith might be too stoic as Kelly’s supportive Lt. Commander Karen Greer, and Jamie Bell too green for the experienced CIA operative he’s playing, but each has excellent chemistry with Jordan. Cast against type as shady CIA op Ritter, the agent responsible for organizing the shaky hostage rescue that embroils Kelly in this mess in the first place, Bell plays icy foil to Jordan’s seething SEAL, and it works.
The film works, too, as a lively intro to a modern hero who’ll unapologetically fly outside the system in pursuit of justice.
Without Remorse is available for streaming globally April 30 on Prime Video. Visit www.amazon.com.
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