Espionage in the middle. A little fighting, a little intelligence gathering, a little love story, but not particularly focused on any of them. A little Le Carre, a little Flemming, a little Ludlum. That’s the basic formula for The Recruit (2003). Is it a hodgepodge that falters under the weight of its disparate intentions or is it a strong balance of sour, sweet, and salty? It’s the latter. It’s like the drunken noodle (Thai food) of spy thrillers.
James Clayton (Colin Farrell) is a techno wizard, graduating first in his class at MIT and a preoccupation with his father’s death in Peru in 1990. Walter Burke (Al Pacino) is a CIA recruiter and lead instructor at “the Farm” where recruits are trained. Clayton is recruited and goes to the Farm. There, he meets Layla (Bridget Moynahan), to whom he is attracted and Zach (Gabriel Macht) who becomes a kind of rival. Nothing is what it seems (except for Clayton who is exactly what he seems).
Two elements of this movie are on the cheaper side. That’s the music (Klaus Badelt) and the romance. For the music, it’s just on the better side of NCIS: Los Angeles (2009-)—which is cheesy and heavy bum, bum, bum. The romance is provolone. There’s a particularly gruesome scene that reminds me of two college freshman alphas starting a romance. “We learned a lot about each other…” Oomph. Might I suggest that you learned nothing about one another in the two minutes of conversation you’ve had and can’t reliably assess your chemistry at spy camp.
Otherwise, I’m loving this movie. Direction (Roger Donaldson) is on the would-be edgy side—I say would-be because it’s like a calmer, steadier hand than you see from The Rock (1996)—with plenty of room given to the actors. Actually, it’s the performances, especially from Farrell and Pacino, that turn this from fun to rather good. On my fourth (estimated) viewing of the movie, I decided that the opening credits and the ending moments are a bit obnoxious. The credits because they are repetitive on a very basic idea: “HIS FATHER’S DEAD AND HE’S LOOKING FOR ANSWERS!” The final moments, a return to that theme, end with a fade and gliding tune that wouldn’t be out of place on The Guiding Light (1952-2009). Still, that’s only a couple (important) moments that stumble (but don’t fall).
But first credit has to go to the writing evolutions of Roger Towne (not to be confused with brother Robert Towne), Kurt Wimmer, and Mitch Glazer. Who provided what, I could not say, but the final product is a very good story, some very funny dialogue, and only a couple eye-rolling moments. Eye-rolling moments, when not belonging to the director or actors, are easier to come by in a spy thriller than other fields. Espionage, unless a device for endless action, is immediately serious but, by definition, a field of mystery, thus opening it up to a critical eye/ear. There is a brief moment that comes at the end that is worthy of significant consideration, but because this is a thriller, so we run right by it, but it’s nice to know it’s there. That is, there’s a mind at work behind this movie and it shows.
Think of this as the origin story for Taken (2008). Because it is an origin story in the best sense of the term. We meet our fellow, assess his motivation during the opening credits, give him an opportunity, train him up, and send him out for his first major test. I wonder what the sequel to The Recruit would be. Safe House (2012), perhaps. But neither Taken nor Safe House are particularly interested in intelligence gathering. I’m not saying The Recruit is the first two episodes of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979), but it is akin to Casino Royale (2006) in giving some nod to the ostensible reason for intelligence agencies.
Funny thing. Clayton calls Zach Sonny Crockett (because he’s from Miami), which is a part Colin Farrell played in the movie version of Miami Vice (2006).
This is a good one. Since it’s come to the $5 level–$3.59 on Amazon–there’s no reason not to buy it. [You know, I see prices like that, or $3 for Spy Game (2001) and I really want to buy them again, just for the bargain of it. Is that weird?] If you liked some of the movies listed above, you’ll watch this more than once.