“Not for honor. Not for country. For his wife and child.” Along with Harrison Ford’s scowl, those words dominated the poster for the 1992 film “Patriot Games,” the first of two Ford outings as novelist Tom Clancy’s all-purpose avenging angel and CIA analyst Jack Ryan. (The latest Ryan, now streaming on Amazon Prime: John Krasinski.)
As John Wick and a million other guys can attest, payback for the brutal death of loved ones justifies anything and everything in pulp fiction. Those “Patriot Games” poster teases apply equally well to the Michael B. Jordan character in “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse,” available now on Amazon Prime Video.
As the trailer shows you, freely and gladly, a brutal assassination targeting former Navy SEAL John Kelly, played here by Jordan, spares his life but not that of his pregnant wife. The ensuing, bloody stand-off between Kelly and his masked assailant is lighted partially (and effectively) by a small flashlight, rolling this way and that on the floor. Shrewdly directed by Italian crime-drama specialist Stefano Sollima (“Gomorrah,” the TV series, and before that, the “Sicario” sequel), the movie saves itself from itself with details like that.
It’s a fairly entertaining origin story, part of the so-called “Ryanverse” constellation of avenging patriots, paving the way for Kelly’s transformation into John Clark, head of the Rainbow counterterrorism team depicted in Clancy’s follow-up, “Rainbow Six.”
Clancy’s 1993 “Without Remorse” was set in 1969-1970 amid the Vietnam war, dealing also with Kelly’s rebound relationship, after losing his wife in a fatal car accident, with a stateside prostitute ensnared in the international drug trade.
All that’s gone now. The script, credited to Taylor Sheridan (“Hell or High Water,” “Wind River”) and game alum Will Staples, begins in Syria, with a Navy SEALs hostage rescue. This involves Kelly, fellow SEAL Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith, most welcome) and their comrades, working with limited intel provided by shifty CIA agent Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell, playing a “Who Can You Trust?” game of his own with the audience). They learn soon enough that the bad people are Russian, not Syrian. And Something is Definitely Up.
From there “Without Remorse” jumps to a three-months-later series of retaliatory assassinations on members of the SEALs operation, bringing the war home and making it personal. Who can Kelly rely upon? The military? The CIA? The U.S. Secretary of State, played by Guy Pearce?
“Without Remorse” is all about pawns versus kings, as the script’s obsessive chess metaphors keep telling us, and the pawns have to do what they have to do. Thanks to the director, what they do makes for painless “avoidance viewing” — something to kill 100 minutes or so while you’re avoiding something else, delivered in an impersonal but not unskillful manner.
‘TOM CLANCY’S WITHOUT REMORSE’
2.5 stars (4 stars)
Rating: R (for violence)
Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Where to watch: Now streaming on Amazon Prime Video