Mark Reviews Movies

THE RECRUIT

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Roger Donaldson

Cast: Colin Farrell, Al Pacino, Bridget Moynahan, Gabriel Macht

MPAA Rating:  (for violence, sexuality and language)

Running Time: 1:55

Release Date: 1/31/03



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Review by Mark Dujsik

There are some movies that you watch, think it was pretty entertaining and without any gaping flaws, and realize you will forget about fairly quickly. The Recruit is that kind of movie. The question when dealing critically with such a film is whether or not the second part outweighs the third. Was the movie entertaining enough to compensate for the fact that I will probably not remember it in a year's time? In The Recruit's case, I nod my head, say yes, and feel a bit intimidated by the prospect of having to write a full-length review based on this argument. Trust me, that won't be the full extent of it, but still, I could be over and done with now. Perhaps that's a compliment to the film, though. It's a smartly made spy piece that wisely avoids the easy plot structure of stringing action sequences together and instead depends on lies, deceptions, and hidden agendas to drive a far more successful sense of intrigue. There is no pretension to it, and it works. So well, actually, that even the fact that the ending has been not-too-subtly revealed in the trailer doesn't get in the way of enjoying it.

The story revolves around a young computer geek and bartender named James Clayton (Colin Farrell), who is demonstrating his new program that allows broadcasts from any computer system to be shown on any electronic device the user deems fit—or something like that. The program is so revolutionary he is offered a high-paying job on the spot, despite being extremely late for the exhibition.  Later that night while at work, James is approached by Walter Burke (Al Pacino), a man whom he had seen earlier that day at the trade fair. Burke knows many things about James including to job offer, which he asks him to reconsider for a different prospective career. Burke is from the CIA, and he wants to recruit James. "It's in your blood," Burke tells him, hinting that he knows something about James' father, who mysteriously disappeared many years ago when James was a boy. He decides to take Burke up on his offer, partially for the experience but more so for the chance to discover vital information about his father from a man who may have known him.

There's an extended sequence of James and his fellow pupils training in the ways of the Agency, and this is where we meet Layla Moore (Bridget Moynahan), who seems to be named such only so James can ask, "Like the song?" The two hit it off well, but then after giving in to a torture exercise, James seems to have been excused from future training. Or has he? This is where the mind games really begin, as Burke returns to tell James, no, he actually passed the test and better than anyone in the history of The Farm (as the training facility is affectionately called). He now has an incredibly important mission: to find a mole. Now had the trailer not blatantly revealed the ending, it would still be fairly obvious who the villain must be simply because of the rule that screenwriters must conserve characters. It's the same mindset that reminds us that the computer program in the beginning is a Chekhov's Gun (a gun introduced in the first act must be fired by the last) and will invariably come into play later. Therefore, it should also stand to reason that when the villain is revealed, he or she will divulge their motivation and execution to give the hero enough time to devise an escape.

Yet these tried and true clichés don't make an appearance until the final act, and by that time, we're already impressed by the film's relative restraint in similar matters. Most of the plot revolves around mind-play not gunplay, and when guns do come into play, there are no big shootouts with bodies flying everywhere. Such encounters are handled fairly well, with more of a sense of threat than oncoming destruction. The CIA isn't some super-secret organization that can get any kind of information about anyone at any time. Burke says their applicant numbers are up, and it seems that most of the work isn't top secret. Most of the missions presented in the movie are internal affairs issues. It seems slightly more realistic than what we've come to think about the organization. Finally, there's the element of James' father, which seems slight, but it gives our hero a certain—albeit small—level of development.

Still, the main reason The Recruit works is because its screenplay keeps us on our toes in terms of plotting and expectations, which makes it easier to forgive all the questions the lackadaisical finale brings up. Performance-wise, there isn't much to report, except that Al Pacino is essentially asked to be Al Pacino because he's Al Pacino and can do this kind of straightforward mentor role in his sleep. On the other hand, Colin Farrell, who has quickly become one of my favorite new actors, is given the chance to solidify his rising star status, and let's just call that one more reason the film works.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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