Without Remorse is a delicious throwback to a time when a sturdy shoot-em-up was its own reward.
Streaming services have absolutely become a pipeline for direct-to-video offerings, cheap rom-coms, and prestige dramas that would never find a more comfy budget, all to varying degrees of quality and relative success. But in the age of studio spectacle being almost exclusively reserved for VFX-heavy comic book pageantry and gigantic franchise IP, they’ve also been a welcome refuge for sturdy, unpretentious action fare, the kind of one-weekend programmer you could have reliably come across in the ’80s and ’90s; in films like Extraction or Greyhound you can see the shadows of ancestors like your Executive Decisions, your Peacemakers, your Broken Arrows, your huddled masses yearning to breathe smoke.
Such a film is Amazon’s Without Remorse, so loosely based on Tom Clancy’s 1993 novel as to be nearly an original story, a thrillingly old-school piece of junk food that’s so pure in its intention, so blissfully free of subtext or depth, and so salivatingly macho that it can’t help but satisfy your lizard brain. Michael B. Jordan is Navy SEAL John Kelly, who, along with his Lieutenant Commander Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith) and creepy CIA spook Ritter (Jamie Bell), heads a mission in Aleppo that goes slightly sideways and involves some scary Russian dudes. Fast forward a few months, and three of Kelly’s unit are assassinated, with Kelly himself barely surviving an attempt on his life. His pregnant wife? Not so lucky. Now all that’s left is revenge.
There is so delightfully little to Without Remorse. Scripted with meat-eating gusto by Sicario scribe Taylor Sheridan and co-conspirator Will Staples, it’s a modern grimdark spin on the merciless killfests of old, a millennial left-centrist Commando, with all the attendant military fetishization and suspicion of/reverence for clandestine black bag operators. Jordan — who is absolutely electric here, all ripped abs and coiled rage and gorgeous, masculine charisma — chews through scene after scene, insisting that he’s the best at kicking the appropriate asses because he’s got nothing to lose, and then following through on that promise. A perfect moment involves him hijacking the Russian ambassador’s limo, dowsing it with gasoline, setting it on fire, and then fucking getting inside and torturing the dude until he gives up the necessary dirt.
It’s all shot with a no-frills carpentry by Stefano Sollima, son of the great Italian filmmaker Sergio Sollima, and himself the director of Sheridan’s similarly gnarly but ultimately too moralistic Sicario sequel Day of the Soldado. Frankly, it’s to his credit that he seems to have little on his mind but intensity and machismo, as this simplicity allows him to attack the many action sequences here with some real uncomplicated gusto. The film’s major setpieces — a water-bound plane crash/rescue and a lengthy assault-on-principal set in a Russian apartment complex — show real care with geography, a wonderful glee in the way bullets smash into both people and things, and an appropriate sense of visual scale. He could stand to tone down his cutting, but by the standards of most contemporary action films, it’s remarkably legible. Without Remorse isn’t necessarily a great action film, but it is a delicious throwback to a time when a sturdy shoot-em-up was its own reward, a series of extremely satisfying thumps.
You can stream Stefano Sollima’s Without Remorse on Amazon Prime beginning on April 30.