Stop me if you have heard this one before: man with a “certain set of skills,” using the Taken parlance, whose family is killed, gets revenge on everyone who he feels responsible. While the drawn out Liam Neeson franchise is not exactly about that particular theme, like that series of films Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse is painfully obvious as to what is coming from plot point to plot point. In other words, you know pretty much exactly what to expect. For some, this is not such a bad thing. There is a certain comfort in the familiar. You know, some people do not like surprises. For others, and I count this critic among them, they tend to enjoy some innovation in the story telling. You do not get that in this one.
In Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan) and his Navy Sea, Air, and Land (SEAL) team are in civil war-torn Syria in or to carry out a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) mission. They believe they are there to rescue captured Americans from terrorists, but when they reach their target they discover they are fighting Russian nationals. This brings with it geo-political ramifications that John is quick to recognize, particularly when the CIA agent in charge, Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell), acts somewhat nonchalant when the soldiers reveal the nationality of those they had just fought. Sensing that the time is right (I guess, it is never concretely linked to their Syrian mission), John decides to retire from the military. When he is back in the States, he celebrates his retirement. While this goes on, we see various members of his former SEAL team being murdered. When they finally get to John, he hears them in his bedroom where they kill his pregnant wife, Pam (Lauren London). Making his way to that room, he manages to take out most of the assailants until the last one. In the process, John is seriously wounded, and the final one gets away. As he recovers in the hospital, he is visited by his former commanding officer, Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith), who is devastated for her friend. Through her, we learn that it is the Russians behind the attack on the SEAL team. Once John is healthy enough, he decides to begin investigating his wife’s murder on his own, being fed information by Karen. This leads John to a Russian official in the United States, who reveals the identity of the one that got away the night of Pam’s death. John discovers this information in a rather violent way, and for his actions he is put in prison. His deeds also earn the attention of a highly placed politician, Secretary Clay (Guy Pearce), who had been responsible for helping John already by making sure Karen is in on all the briefings pertaining to the mysterious killings. Secretary Clay gets John safely sprung from jail, and puts him on the new SEAL team tasked with bringing in Pam’s killer, Viktor Rykov (Brett Gelman). They are covertly sent to Russia to capture him, but on the way the Russian Air Force shoots down the bogus commercial flight they are all on. Miraculously surviving this crash, they make their way to their target, only to find out that Viktor is simply a pawn in a bigger game. Viktor blows himself up after this revelation, and when the police begin arriving a sniper cuts down the officers. It is yet another trap, and John and Karen barely make it out with their lives. Between this incident and what they learned from Viktor, it becomes clear that Secretary Clay is attempting to trigger a war between the United States and Russia. Once back on American soil, John goes to confront Secretary Clay and the soldier’s suspicions are confirmed when the politician reveals details of their mission that he could not have known without being the mastermind behind it all. Having finally uncovered the true person who ordered the death of his wife, John gets Secretary Class to confess to everything on tape, staging a suicide for Clay involving driving his car off a bridge and into a river. John is also declared dead and is able to seemingly move on with his life.
These scenes toward the end of Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, despite being derivative, is a good one to think about from a Faith perspective. Grief is a difficult thing to deal with, and in cinema, when you have a talent for death, unfortunately this seems to end with a large body count. Since John is a soldier, this is somewhat understandable. However, not every one of the people he kills following Pam’s death is technically sanctioned by his status with the military. When he learns the name of the person who murdered Pam, there is a symbolic scene where John and the Russian official, Andre Vaseliev (Merab Ninidze), are in Andre’s car while it is on fire. The flames are all around, and murderous intent is in John’s eyes. And while he goes to Russia under orders, he had to convince Karen to bring him along. Karen sensed John’s desire for revenge, and that often causes people to become reckless. In other reviews, I discussed how God warns us in the Bible against getting revenge on people. Now, it is a little silly to think that you could tell a person like John, or anyone else in a similar position, to, as Jesus tells us, “turn the other cheek.” Still, wanting to get even with someone, even when it does not involve wholesale slaughter, is extremely shortsighted. It is not only Christianity that supports a calmer reaction. Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” You may get a temporary boost by seeing a potential enemy get their comeuppance, but what have you truly gained in the long run? We are taught as Catholics and Christians to seek the best for everyone. Much of this was covered in the homily this past Mother’s Day Mass. Killing them, particularly in the eyes of the Catholic Church, is not seeking the best for another. Then again, had John done this, there would have been no film.
Given that is not the path John opts for in Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, you can guess that it is an extremely violent film. It is rated R for good reason. And it is not original. Truly, if you have seen any other revenge film, you have seen this one. Still, if you are itching for this kind of movie, it is available for free on Amazon Prime. It also seems that, in the character of Karen Greer, there is a tie-in with the streaming service’s popular series Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. So, hooray for that, I suppose.