“All I need is a name.”
A few standout action sequences and a devoted, literal teeth gritting performance from the always wonderful Michael B. Jordan aren’t enough to keep Without Remorse from falling into the realm of tedious, forgettable cinema. Not only does the story never live up to the lawless and brutal expectations of its title, the plot just doesn’t seem to have any purpose or point either. This movie is engineered to feel like an old school action flick with some modern updates, one with good craft that’s stuck telling a rudimentary, dry vengeance tale full of false red flags. Without Remorse shows that being misleading isn’t always clever, and that in this genre sometimes it’s become all the more predictable.
The film begins in Aleppo, following a squad of Navy SEALs told to rescue a captive CIA operative, all before learning things aren’t as they seem as they’re quickly swarmed by heavily armed Russians. Lives are lost and questions are raised. Fast forward a few months later and SEAL members are brutally offed one after another; this is practically the only time the film really lives up to its name. And while the operatives make Swiss cheese out of John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan) in his home, nearly killing him, they usher in a premature discharge his pregnant wife into the realm of the dearly departed. Kelly understandably seeks answers at any cost. He’s a younger Man on Fire.
Kelly murders a man in the kind of great, fiery sequence you just can’t fake unless your lead is brave enough to do it himself. He battles through bullet wounds, fights to the death, and he seems to have been made in the same mold as the modern John Wick action hero; he’s lethal, but he isn’t completely invincible either. Without Remorse has a very strong central character, yet the world surrounding him is surprisingly fragile and facile and empty. The more political the plot gets, the less personal the story becomes, and the side characters shoot bullets yet lack punch. It’s too impersonal to matter.
While it’s kind of well managed by director Stefano Sollima (yet obviously disjointed from what seems to be a rarely and poorly penned script written by the prodigious Taylor Sheridan), Without Remorse is a heavy movie made without much intellectual weight or the demand to move some muscles to get things done. The picture feels too easy, too pointlessly premeditated, and above all else way too long. It’s just a benign, macabre mass of a movie lacking any semblance of an answer as to why it should exist in the first place. Without Remorse could’ve been better had it taken the bare minimum time to grieve, to develop its side characters, and to focus of fucking things up. I saw it coming.
“He’s more of a badass.”
Rating: 2.5 out of 5