When Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out in 2014, many were stoked that it played like the kind of espionage thriller they used to make in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, with its considered characters, tightly knotted plotting and impactful action. Without Remorse, based on the 1993 Tom Clancy bestseller set in the early ’70s, is a throwback that should appeal to anyone who liked The Winter Soldier... or, indeed, the films it was modelled on.
Director Stefano Sollima and co-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (here reteaming after the underrated Sicario 2: Soldado, with co-writer Will Staples) have updated the action to the here and now, but the ethos remains the same. Also the bones of the story, as former Navy Seal frogman John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan) suffers a personal tragedy early in the story, and then uses his rage to fuel a fearless investigation into an international conspiracy.
In the original novel, it was a drug ring stretching from Russia to Baltimore via the Vietnam War. Here, however, it’s rather more personal, as Kelly’s outfit conducts a daring extraction on Syrian soil only to find themselves then being picked off one by one when they’re back in America. Are the Russians behind it? Or is the real threat closer to home, with CIA middleman Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell) and Secretary Clay (Guy Pearce) seemingly ordering Kelly and co. into kamikaze cul-de-sacs.
Modern viewers might expect at least one more twist than the screenplay delivers, and action more spectacular. But Without Remorse isn’t about superhero smackdowns or deliriously choreographed Bayhem. It’s about ordinary (albeit highly trained) people in extraordinarily dangerous situations, and it serves up a series of grounded, chaotic set-pieces that unspool in long, suffocating takes. This is no ballet of bullets – they hit, maim, kill, and to be caught in a crossfire is to be so disorientated you clench your bowels.
Jordan, who also produces, makes for a riveting Kelly, fleshing out a character who previously played support to Jack Ryan in a couple of movies and the TV series. The Creed star is an action man with gripping heart. And introducing Jodie Turner- Smith’s Karen Greer into the all-male world of the Navy Seals is a welcome touch. So while some will want more – explosions, stakes, scale – others will just want more, and thrill to the news that Jordan is already signed up for Clancy’s follow-up novel, Rainbow Six.