Director: Stefano Solima
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Jodie Turner-Smith & Guy Pearce.
Review by Damocles.
Please stop giving military action thrillers a bad name with piss-poor entries like this.
Placed in developmental hell for years, Without Remorse more or less fizzle as badly as its explosions on screen.
Watching this film, I was given a keen sense of deja vu regarding one of my earliest attempts at writing film critiques, American Assassin back in 2017 for my burgeoning journalism career in university.
When I watched American Assassin, I was able to predict many of the plot twists, lines and action beats with eerie ease. I had read the source material, and was majorly disappointed with how much they had diverged from the original novel, and how the screenwriters had butchered the original premise which made the book and story so compelling.
In addition, as a keen military researcher and avid shooting fan, I was more or less assaulted with feelings of incredulous disbelief and anger at how wrong a lot of the military advice and equipment were presented in that film.
Without Remorse manages to outdo the feelings I had whilst watching American Assassin and insult the military/espionage thriller genre even further than that film ever did.
Both films suffer from what I call the Call of Duty syndrome, where a lot of the cool moments and action plays out like a sequence in the titular video game series and it is not compelling viewing. I mean, there is even a moment where the main character, John Kelly, shoots a red barrel and it explodes, wounding the enemies around it.
Let that sink in for a second … we have a film where a red barrel explodes.
The video game comparison does not end there however, as this film was co-written by Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples. Sheridan, a man I thought I could trust, especially after his Frontier trilogy, had stirred me back to the reality where even the greats can fall. But it is Will Staples, that I wish to focus on, because there are a lot of moments that truly echo his previous work on the weakest link in the Modern Warfare trilogy …. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
The plane sequence depicted in the film, echo a lot of the Russian hijacking mission in MW3, as did a lot of the action where our titular heroes seem impervious to gunfire and can shoot with pinpoint accuracy. You can read below in the “MILITARY NITPICKING” for more details on this element. However, spoilers are there, so be forewarned!
I found myself thoroughly underwhelmed by the violence depicted in this film. The PG-13 rating was a terrible mistake, considering this is not the type of film that would be marketed towards children in the first place and a lot more enjoyment would be had if there were proper blood effects in the film. Much of the action sequences were filmed very flatly, without any real energy behind the camera and a lot of the geography and choreography of a fight sequence was confusing or uninspired.
At least in American Assassin there was a lot of blood being sprayed everywhere and some proper gruesome kills.
What made the action even more disenchanting was how “inaccurate” a lot of the military movements on display were. I am not particularly highlighting the tactics and weapon handling (more on that in the section below), but more the way how enemies couldn’t seem to shoot straight, despite only being 5 metres apart, the lack of gunfire actually being employed, and the overall sound design and choreography.
This lends the film a very cheap feel with a lot of the explosions looking flat, the sets equally dull and some of the larger CGI landscapes suffering from a strange uncanny valley feeling. Contrast this to the surprise hit of Extraction (2020) which was filmed on a shoestring budget of 65 million USD, there is a noticeable difference in how a talented director can bring a heightened fun to the film, in spite of limitations, like only being able to use airsoft guns and having to CG all the muzzle flashes and blood. Extraction surpassed expectations by being kinetic in its’ camerawork, starring a more charismatic performance, and creating a more compelling narrative.
Yes, both films have a strange colour tint to it, can look cheap at times, and cast extraordinarily handsome leads but when you compare the two films, you can see how one film is truly trying and the other is just being trying.
However I have waxed lyrical enough about comparing Without Remorse to other similar films on giant streaming platforms. What of the characters, the plot, and the music?
The plot is as generic as it can get, with a lot of film being spoiled in the actual trailers being released. I found the hook regarding the set-up between Russia and the U.S. more compelling than the emotional angle, which is precisely the element that tends to drive the Tom Clancy’s universe. But neither were done particularly well to elevate the film to anything.
The characters are arguably the worst part of the film, with so many thin sketches of characters that it seems almost laughable at how many poor decisions and lines were given to them. Michael B. Jordan does what he can with the material given to him, but not even his natural charisma elevate his character beyond anything but a dull military man obsessed with revenge and somehow being the only one able to piece the puzzle together.
Other characters are given zero arcs and many of them are as forgettable as they come, with no real attempts being made to actually give them time to breathe, emote and play a more compelling part in the narrative.
To care about the action on-screen, is to care about the characters. That is one of the fundamental rules of action cinema.
This film blatantly ignores this film and only sets up the thinnest of lines for secondary characters to off them a few moments later.
I found the performance of Jodie Turner-Smith’s to be particularly stiff. I am still very puzzled as to why she was included in the film, but then her casting as Karen Greer, a inverse female replacement for the venerable “James Greer” never sat well with me, and I was admittedly taken out of the film by the inclusion of a female U.S. Navy SEAL. It did little to help the cause when she barely emoted throughout the film, nor show any signs of actually changing throughout the film.
To clarify, I don’t have an issue with the concept of a female special forces operator, I just wished it was handled better in fiction and reality. An all-female special forces unit, named something else other than SEAL would be just as combat-effective in the right context, but I dislike the idea of lowering BUD/s to accommodate for female operators.
Men and Women are different. There is nothing wrong with that. It should be celebrated that women can do things men can’t and vice versa. Both have their place on the battlefield, just applied in different ways and in different arenas.
Finally, we come to the score by Jonsi.
It can be summed up as “forgettable”. I wished a more talented composer like Ramin Djawadi did work on this film, as his compositions on the short-lived series, Medal of Honor (2010) is actually the perfect contemporary military music for the current era. I have always loved his twin scores for the series and I could easily see it working well in this film.
Note that I haven’t even mentioned anything of substance regarding the cinematography. Because there was none. Everything was shot as flat and dull as possible and even potential interesting moments were filmed so perfunctory, that you almost missed them out of boredom.
Overall, Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse is doubtless an attempt by Amazon to capitalise on the success of their Jack Ryan series and expand their Tom Clancy IP.
I just wished it was a lot better.
There was so much potential here, from the cast to the director and the universe it was set in. I particularly would have liked it more if they removed the typical revenge element and leaned harder into the political spectrum of the story.
There has still not been a good film made where political deals and backroom decisions affect real-time military operations. I think the contrast between the clean, treacherous streets of D.C. and the dirty but brother-like environment of a warzone could really create a unique story and compelling viewing experience.
This was not an enjoyable watch, from a good or bad experience. Instead it proved itself to be the worst kind of film … uninspired and dull, wishing you could take back the hour and a half of your life and pour it into something more productive.
A scene to recall: See the screenshot below … that is the only interesting shot, an image of a Huey flying away on a CG landscape.
MILITARY NITPICKING (SPOILERS BELOW)
As a keen military nerd (“milsimp”), I was annoyed at the lack of military knowledge they employed in this film. A franchise written by Tom Clancy has always had the latest information and technology employed by the forces in his fictional universe and I was disappointed by the portrayal of the military units in this film. This list below, is probably only targeted at people who are up to speed on the latest military knowledge and tactics so be warned that this is probably useless factual information.
- Weapon handling always seem to be a weak point in cinema nowadays. They seem to still be hiring out-of-touch weapon advisors, with very little updates on the latest methodology for the manual of arms. I did not see a single “U.S. Navy SEAL” perform a high ready or low ready placement in the entire film, something that is now commonly taught across all military units in the world.
- No doubt due to the budget, but a lot of the “uniforms” used in the film are very … odd choices. The most realistic outfits were equipped at the beginning of the film, but as the film went further and further along, the clothing worn by the men began to stretch the limit of realism. Skinny tactical pants are an unlikely development, even though they look damn good on Michael B. Jordan’s athletic frame. I was particularly disappointed with the outfits they chose for an infiltration into Russia. Where are the infamous Addidas tracksuits? A real military unit would also hesitate to bring people of different ethnicity into country, for the obvious reason of standing out.
- Another odd choice were the weapons used by the unit when infiltrating Russia. Where are all the AK weapon platforms? A deep cover unit would be using foreign weapons to blend with the locals. An AK is just as good of a gun as the AR-15 and I don’t see any reasons why they wouldn’t be equipped with tricked out AKs.
- To go a little further, I was even more confused when John Kelly character was equipped with an G36K of all weapons. Especially considering that he is a SEAL, and on Russian soil, the old workhorse of the German Bundeswehr is an odd choice considering its close affiliation with NATO. Even more odd to me was the fact that he was using the K model which is the largest version of the G36 for CQB purposes! Why he didn’t just use the G36C variant was confusing to me. At least his optic choices were suitable, although naturally Hollywood exaggerated the zoom of the ELCAN SpectreDR he had equipped on top of his G36K. It was even missing the red dot that is normally seen on that optic.
- I was equally perplexed by Greer’s choice of a Tavor TAR-21 which is almost exclusive to the IDF, another country not exactly known for its close ties to Russian forces. At least she chose a bullpup which was a lot more suitable for CQB situations than Kelly’s rifle. Also when her gun jammed, she should have checked before bursting into the room or have practiced her secondary transitions to the point where, the moment the weapon jammed, her pistol is up and cleared of its’ holster. She was tragically slow, very uncharacteristic for a SEAL.
- One final ballistic nitpick, from a gun-a-holic like myself is Kelly’s choice of a pistol for the house invasion sequence. The man bothered to buy a expensive Trijicon RMR for his pistol, but neglected to get himself a pistol light attachment for his home-defence gun? Any shooter, even civilians, are aware that you can’t shoot what you can’t see. The fact that he had to pick up a torch, and compromise his stance with the Weaver grip is … just bizarre, when you can literally actuate a Surefire X300U with your trigger finger and maintain a perfect thumbs forward grip. I was so baffled when I saw him pick up the torch separate and yet still have a RMR on his pistol. He should have known to buy a pistol light before a useless RMR that glows too bright in the dark. It wasn’t even a cheap Glock he used either! It was an Salient Arms model … he definitely had the money to buy a damn Surefire for that gun.
- The overall movie was suffering from inconsistent ballistic impacts. I mean, there was a scene where a Russian sniper had them pinned down with a goddamn Barrett M95 and the huge .50cal rounds didn’t even punch right through the wall. A round that large, and intimidating would have blown a hole through anything, regardless of plot armour. Then there was the cover that would protect Kelly, then wouldn’t … sometimes rounds would ping off the wall Kelly was hiding behind and other times … they would go right through and wound his shoulder. It was maddening. Not to mention the RPG sequence at the very start …. at such a short range, the RPG would never be able to arm itself and explode like it did in the film.
- Of equal confusion was the fact that the U.S. Military would exfiltrate a multi-million dollar investment known as a U.S. Navy SEAL team with a Cold War relic like the UH-1 Huey out of a known warzone called Aleppo, Syria. At minimum that bird would be flanked by AH-1 Cobras or AH-64 Apaches as escorts, ready to take out any insurgents with an RPG on their shoulders. For the SEALs, at the minimum you would expect a BlackHawk or a Little Bird for their extraction. Not a Vietnam-era workhorse.
- The NODs tubes that they used at the beginning of the film, looked a little old for a team that is supposed to be America’s tip of the spear. Of particular disappointment, is that they didn’t even use the damn things, nor actuate their weapon lights or AN/PEQ-15s …. none of them were hooked up on a pressure button either … so they are just for show.
- The HK-416 that Kelly uses at the beginning of the film had a very strange set-up. Normally SEALs use tried and true brands such as Aimpoint or EOTech for their optics. Kelly was running a Leupold Carbine Optic which is a very peculiar choice. There were also no visible weapon lights. Again … lights are always useful regardless of what gun you own or what training you have.
- The torch in his house after he got shot … why the hell did it spin so much for dramatic effect?
- You don’t talk about the mission until the debrief back at base. The fact that Kelly’s character kept pausing and discussing important plot points in the middle of a potential hot area annoyed me greatly.
- I disliked how the CIA agent at the beginning of the raid was not wearing BDUs …. like the rest of the team, just bedecked in flannel. That is not how spooks operate in the field. He might as well have been yelling to everyone he was CIA.
- How did Kelly get to a hospital after being shot 2-4 times? No one else knew he was being attacked … so who called the cops? Last I checked too, the house he was living in didn’t seem to have any neighbours so … how was he rescued?
- Greer should have been arrested for leaking state secrets. No one else would have sanctioned her actions.
- Shooting someone in the chest to puncture their lung … is not how bullets work. At least the fire stunt looked cool though.
- Police response time is not usually that quick, nor would the VIP leave without his bodyguards. He probably would have guessed what was going down and told his driver either to floor it or wait for his security team to catch up.
- Any sane military person would have just jumped out of a doomed 747 about to be shot down by a Russian fighter jet. To see them …. REMOVE their chute from their shoulders, especially at a height ready for a HALO jump made absolutely no sense. In addition, the fact that the plane crashed so soon after, also doesn’t translate well because HALO stands for High Altitude, Low Opening which meant that the plane should have been incredibly high up in the air. Additionally, 747 are also renowned for their toughness and durability, with several real recorded instances of successful landing after all 4 engines were shut down. In the film, only one was taken out by a missile, and if it was a true AA missile, the shrapnel form the missile would have destroyed everything inside a thin passenger airliner.
- Why was their gear strapped to the wall of the plane if they were just about to do a HALO jump? If anything, your equipment is the first thing to out the damn door and you always have your gun on you, strapped to your leg. If it was always meant to be a water landing, these SEALs would not be in civilian clothes either, but in proper SCUBA gear and ready to swim and then change into normal clothes once in-country, or at the very least be already sucking on oxygen, due to the extremely high altitude that they are flying at. Yet these guys were already having their 747 opened to the wind without any need to do any pre-breathing to void the nitrogen from their bloodstream.
- WHY fly a 747!?!? Most military infiltration techniques literally just disguise a C-130 Hercules or C-5 Galaxy as a commercial flight via radar and electronic suites. They do not actually need to fly a 747 to insert into a country. If anything the Russian pilot would be even more convinced that this was an ordinary plane if he did see a 747. I understand though that this was for budgetary reasons for the water stunt but from a military perspective, very odd choice.
- That much amount of C4 strapped to Rykov’s chest would have blown apart the entire 3 floors and killed Kelly with it.
- The entire sniper sequence would have resulted in the entire team dying. There is no way a sniper armed with those weapons and owning the superior angles would miss at such close range.
- There were also not enough rounds being fired to cover the team. In such a situation they would be unable to hear each other, due to the sheer amount of rounds being fired to cover the team. One of the first rules when engaged in a firefight is to gain fire superiority when ambushed or setting the ambush. Their weapons, with their higher capacity and at such close range should have dominated the snipers. They would also have provided first aid IMMEDIATELY after a team member got shot in the stomach instead of just waiting around for him to bleed out.
- The entire movie in fact lacked any proper battlefield medical applications in situations and preferred to cut around them, to move things along, something that bothered me greatly. One of the things that make military films so great is seeing how battle damage can be taken, healed and recuperated in the middle of a firefight.
- Blind firing is generally discouraged.
- The Russians soldiers would have easily dominated Kelly’s position atop the rooftop. But for some bizarre reason they didn’t crush him under huge amounts of suppressive fire or grenades. Oh wait, I forgot he has plot armour.
- Kelly also stayed up on the roof for far too long. A man of his training would have lobbed two grenades and then moved to another roof top immediately.
- Why the HELL did the team just drive right through the massive firefight between Kelly and the Russian troops!?!
- His uniform switch at the end was completely bullshit and he should have been coughing obnoxiously with the amount of smoke filling that staircase.
- Again … C4 does not work that way. Everything should have been emptied in that lobby when he threw it, even Kelly himself. Also, what an incredibly underwhelming explosion.
- The Rainbow nod at the end, has got me on complete edge. I do not want any of it. Please leave my beloved tactical shooter franchise alone.
That concludes my ridiculously nerdy rant about all the things wrong, form a military perspective in this film. Thanks for stopping by and indulging in my anger over this terribleness.