Somber can be a valuable emotion in espionage thrillers.

Cold, calculated violence from an agent infiltrating behind enemy lines to extract a target, steal intelligence or disrupt the opposition at any cost is often engaging, entertaining drama ripe for cinema.

Amazon’s attempt to get into the spy genre, however, is so emotionless that it becomes a stale, forgettable journey across the globe featuring faceless villains with horrible aim, melodramatic fodder passing itself as character development and serviceable action sequences. 

Based off the novel, Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse intends itself to be a gritty action thriller with a mixture of modern espionage and good old fashioned brutality, yet director Stefano Sollima can’t communicate clearly with his audience aside from handing the plot over way too quickly.

Creed star Michael B. Jordan gives a solid effort as John Kelly, a Special Forces operative on a quest for vengeance after his wife and unborn child are murdered by a professional hit squad in his home.

But his work is consistently, painstakingly undercut by a screenplay revived by Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan that takes the loosest adaptation of its source material and weaves a by-the-numbers revenge thriller that never gets off the ground. Without Remorse becomes the 2020’s equivalent of a 90’s Steven Seagal film with Jordan a marked improvement as an actor.

Jordan offers the grit to bring Kelly’s callous nature to bear after the murder of his wife, but these moments often feel hollow because there isn’t any palpable chemistry between Jordan and Lauren London as Pam.

Jordan domineers over his costars to the point they almost aren’t acting in the same movie. He brings energy and intensity to each scene that isn’t ever matched, leaving scenes to feel disjointed or one-note.

The supporting cast has talent, although Sollima cannot compel nuance from those around Kelly.

Jodie Turner-Smith, a radiant actress in Queen and Slim, is an overly rigid wall of stoicism as Kelly’s military partner. While it’s clear she put in the work to handle herself in action sequences, there’s a robotic quality to her performance that comes across as mechanical and devoid of personality.

The same is true of Jamie Bell’s CIA deputy director Robert Ritter and Guy Pearce’s Defense Secretary Clay, who play the role of secret-keepers so tight to the chest that the audience is rarely clued in on what’s going on in their heads. 

Though it makes sense that a film about covert operations would largely take place at night, Sollima does an inadequate job of framing its stars distinctly in natural or added light to keep Jordan or his antagonists out of the shadows even in moments of pure dialogue.

Hiding most of the action under cover of smoke and darkness masks subpar choreography and large sections of Without Remorse require viewers to slog through the scenery to make heads or tails of the nonsensicalities.

In the moments where the action is well thought out, Sollima showers the scene with warmer light to accentuate the hand-to-hand combat of a close-quarters fight in a prison cell or the dying fluorescents of an airplane cargo bay.

It often feels like Without Remorse is an audition tape for Jordan to helm a different action/adventure franchise as his talents feel largely wasted here with a middling to subpar script and exceptionally poor direction telegraphs every plot twist from a mile away.

Paramount sold off the film to Amazon Studios in late 2020 after pulling it off its release schedule twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the online streamer pushed Without Remorse out with little fanfare last weekend.

Ultimately, Without Remorse is a middling thriller where the bullets fly fast and loose and the drama takes a backseat to R-rated, yet bloodless violence. Jordan’s effort and the occasionally fun action sequences make it a casual watch candidate while doing chores at home.

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