The Michael B. Jordan Action Thriller 'Without Remorse' Is a Slick, Brutal Affair
An old Tom Clancy character gets a tense, violent update for Amazon Prime.
Michael B. Jordan knows how to throw a punch. After playing the nimble boxer Adonis Creed, son of former champ Apollo Creed, in both Creed and Creed II, with the Jordan-directed Creed III on the way, the actor has learned how to credibly fill the screen as a broad-shouldered, take-no-shit warrior. During a key prison-set scene in Without Remorse, Anazon Prime Video's tense and brutal revenge thriller based on a Tom Clancy novel from the early '90s, Jordan takes off his shirt, wraps his hand with a towel, turns on a faucet so water spills on the concrete floor, and then pummels a series of armed guards sent to restrain him. "Close the door or I'll start snapping necks," he bellows.
Plenty of necks, arms, and spines get snapped in Without Remorse, a brooding military shoot-em-up that follows Jordan's Navy SEAL John Kelly as he goes on the warpath to avenge the death of his pregnant wife, Pam (Lauren London), following an operation in Syria that leads to Russian assassins sneaking into Kelly's home in the middle of the night. With nothing left to lose, Kelly sets out to figure out who was responsible, pissing off Washington bureaucrats, military brass, and a sniveling CIA agent played by Jamie Bell. In one of the movie's best scenes, Jordan lights a car on fire and then climbs in the backseat to interrogate a terrified bad guy. That's what lands him in prison, where he administers the aforementioned water-on-the-floor beat-down. It's that type of movie: The film opens with a man getting yanked into the water and killed, establishing a "and we're off!" tone of perpetually escalating violence.
This is all familiar material, a rehash of bombastic '80s action movie tropes and tangled spy conspiracy twists, but it's given a glowering sense of menace by director Stefano Sollima, who co-created Amazon's similarly unnerving drug trade drama ZeroZeroZero and last directed 2018's Sicario: Day of the Soldado. (He's also the son of Italian director Sergio Sollima.) Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan also has a writing credit here—shared with writer Will Stapes—and the movie bears the mark of his obsession with questions of duty and personal responsibility. You might find the tone overly serious, but there's an admirable spartan quality to the movie's macho melodrama that's aided by striking compositions and a rumbling score courtesy of Icelandic musician Jónsi of the essential post-rock group Sigur Rós.
With his ability to sell the anguish and the ass-kicking, Jordan ends up being a strong fit for Clancy's Rambo-like Kelly, a true believer often disgusted by the callousness and the cynicism of his superiors. (Here's where it gets a little wonky: Kelly eventually takes on the name John Clark, and Clark was previously played by Willem Dafoe in 1994's Clear and Present Danger and by Liev Schreiber in 2002's The Sum of All Fears.) The movie requires you to believe Jordan both as a committed husband, the type of Wife Guy who just likes to lay on the couch and listen to music on his computer, and a locked-in angel of death, capable of putting a new spin on lines like, "They brought their war to my house."
You will maybe not be shocked to learn that Kelly eventually finds the men responsible for his wife's death, and that learning their true identities and their true motives only enrages him more, renewing his desire to carry out justice and theoretically reform a broken system from within (via more neck-snapping, of course). The broad strokes of Without Remorse—the killing off of a wife character with little screen time, the alliance shifting of potential allies and enemies within the deep-state, the mowing down of attackers during a late-night raid gone wrong—were already tired clichés when Clancy was covering them with techno-babble and right-wing politics and rolling them into his bestsellers. The pleasure here, which might look like a strange word to use in describing such an often nasty movie, is in the way Sollima carefully stages each sequence and the way Jordan leans into each cold-blooded act of retaliation. Working together, they make each punch land.