Movie Review: Tom Clancy characters get a makeover in film version of 1993 novel

Nadja Klier, Paramount PicturesMichael B. Jordan takes Tom Clancy spy John Clark into a new era of adventure. 

The most important thing to remember about watching the movies and television series based on novels written by Tom Clancy is to take them one at a time.

Throughout these adventures, there are changes in performers playing primary roles. Some characters will have different names and/or duties in the well-produced thrillers. And, because of the number of prequels and sequels, characters will be older or younger than you may remember. Don’t conflate facts, just follow the drama.

I watched “The Sum Of All Fears” (from 2002) a week ago and although it’s certainly fast-paced, it’s also much different from what Clancy delivered in the book. The movie is entertaining, even with some absurd plot holes and over-the-top action hero theatrics from Ben Affleck as C.I.A. analyst Jack Ryan.

I then bought a paperback copy of the novel, which runs a mind-boggling 1,202 pages. At two inches, the book is so thick that I could’ve wrapped it in aluminum foil and used it as a panini press.

In “Sum…,” Affleck, looks infinitely younger than Harrison Ford as Ryan in both “Patriot Games” (1992) and the excellent “Clear And Present Danger” (1994). Affleck looks about the same age as the superb Alec Baldwin as Ryan in the truly great “The Hunt For Red October” (1990), which stars an outstanding Sean Connery.

There’s also Chris Pine’s Jack Ryan in the forgettable “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” from 2014. Pine looks older than Affleck even though he’s a younger actor. Much better is a mature looking, but still youngish, John Krasinski as Ryan in the recent excellent 16-episode Prime Video series, which is simply titled “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.”

Over the years, five different actresses have played Ryan’s girlfriend/wife Catherine, nee Muller: Gates McFadden (Baldwin), Anne Archer (the best; Ford), Bridget Moynahan (Affleck), Keira Knightley (Pine), and Abbe Cornish (Krasinski).

Equally daunting when trying to keep up with Ryan is the fact that the Old Guard truth-teller Admiral James Greer, played by James Earl Jones in “Patriot Games” and “Clear And Present Danger,” dies in the latter. That’s hardly a spoiler because of when it was released. However, here's the kicker, a much younger Greer played by Wendell Pierce returns from the dead (figuratively, not literally) in the Krasinski television version.

We now have a new nugget of rewriting. The special C.I.A. agent/fixer John Clark, who’s played by Willem Dafaoe in “Clear…” and Liev Schrieber in “Sum…,” is a white male.

However, in the new “Without Remorse,” he’s Black. Additionally, early in the film, Clark’s name is John Kelly, but don’t despair. He will undergo a name change from Kelly to Clark. These are spy movies, after all.

The well-acted “Without Remorse,” which is streaming on Prime Video, is based on Clancy’s 1993 book of the same name. The story has been updated to the present, but again, Jack Ryan is quite a bit younger than he is in the other films. This is what I mean by taking these movies as individual stories.

Michael B. Jordan plays Kelly/Clark, and he’s a terrific actor. His brilliant performance in the extraordinary “Fruitvale Station” from 2013 is unforgettable.

Jordan also plays Johnny Storm (Human Torch) in “Fantastic Four,” and he became most well-known playing boxer Adonis Creed, the son of professional fighter Apollo, in Sylvester Stallone’s two “Creed” films. It certainly helped the now-34-year old Jordan’s nascent career to have starred in “Black Panther.”

In “Without Remorse,” Jordan is good as Kelly, although he seems lost because of the convoluted story that gets away from all concerned.

Instead of links to Vietnam and drug smuggling in the 1970s, as with the novel, we are now in war-ravaged Aleppo, Syria in 2019. The movie connects to the Russian military presence in the country, U.S. Navy SEALS, hostage taking, murder and revenge. Geopolitics that belong more to the Cold War era are included, although astonishingly, in 2019, cyber warfare seems relatively unheard of.

Kelly is a Navy SEAL whose pregnant wife (Lauren London) is killed when Russian operatives invade their home, intending to murder him because of Aleppo. He wants revenge. Remember, historically, this character is always a renegade.

A Navy SEAL named Karen Greer (the niece of the aforementioned Admiral Greer, and acted by Jodie Turner-Smith), works with the United States Secretary Of Defense (Guy Pearce), as they quietly decide to assist Kelly in getting his pound of flesh from the Russians.

It’s hinted, more for cheap suspense than for anything else, that after learning about the plan, C.I.A. Deputy Director Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell here, but Henry Czerny in “Clear…”) may or not be chatting with the Russians. If you recall Ritter, he’s a bureaucratic snake.

Director Stefano Sollima likes violence, and there are a couple of robust action set-pieces; however, movies like this also need some backroom subtlety, which is woefully lacking.

Co-screenwriters Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the genuinely great “Hell Or High Water,” and Will Staples seem less inclined to create a gripping spy movie and more a Charles Bronson-style revenge film. A conspiracy to force the U.S. and Russia to fight each other is right out of “The Sum Of All Fears.” At only 109-minutes, the movie seems poorly edited from something longer.

I like finely crafted thrillers; however, “Without Remorse” suffers from shoddy construction.

Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette and the CNHI news network. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.

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