Review: The Recruit

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )

As anyone who knows me knows, I don’t enjoy trivial, meaningless side plots of events that have no baring on the outcome or development of the film/plot. Thus, I have a special place in my heart for movies like The Recruit that stick to a road. I don’t intend for that statement to sound as if I enjoy formulaic films, as I don’t. Its perfectly acceptable in my opinion for a movie to take a detour, but its not ok for one to jump on a new road. It is because of this why I have special affection for The Recruit, the film knows where its heading, and get there in fine style, utilizing plot twists in all the right ways. However, The Recruit hangs the audience out to dry as the third and final act of the film occurs, and gives new meaning to the word ‘cliche,’ and instead of being a worthy diversion from the current batch of movies, The Recruit flounders in the sea of mediocrity. Thus, I cannot say for certain whether The Recruit will make a worthy recruit to your “Must See” roster.

The Recruit has been dubbed a thriller, and I can see why. Its a spy movie, with a high paced trailer and TV spots. Yet after watching the film, I came to the conclusion that the movie fits better within the niche of drama rather than thriller. While this was likely not what director Roger Donaldson was going for, it works well. There of course was the ubiquitous car chase scene, and the cat-and-mouse seen, but for the most part, there was very little actual ‘espionage,’ or what we think to be espionage (jumping out of planes, laser darts, al), thus making what I believe to be a far more accurate portrayal of the CIA, and a better spy movie.

This is to my recollection, the first film ever to depict the training of a CIA recruit. A good 45 minutes of the movie unfolded and what is called “The Farm,” or the training center. Yet the beginning of the film takes place at not the Langley, not the Farm...but an MIT job fair. James Clayton (Colin Farrell) is a graduate at the top of his MIT class, who has developed a new software called Spartacus, not only are Dell, Microsoft, and IBM drooling over him, so is Walter Burke (Al Pacino), a CIA recruiter. Since 1990, James has been haunted by the death of his father, Edward, whom he believed to be in the CIA. So tt doesn’t take long for James’ curiosity to get the better of him, and he finds himself at The Farm. At the training facility, he meets the lovely Layla (Bridget Moynahan), with whom he is immediately smitten with. After being set up at the Farm for a training exercise, James is let go. But in the world of this movie, “nothing is what it seems,” and while everyone thinks James has been let go, Walter informs him that he is the NOC, a non-official cover operative, which means he is the ‘James Bond,’ the one who not even his fellow CIA members know exists. When James receives his first assignment, he is shocked, Layla is a mole, and his mission is to get close to her and find out what her mission is and to whom she is working with. But nothing is what it seems.

The Recruit has three distinct chapters. Chapter one of course is the Farm, chapter two is the assignment to discover Layla’s intentions, and the third and final chapter is the conclusion. Like many other movies of the sort, The Recruit’s final chapter doesn’t live up to the rest of the movie. As the Austin Powers movies have made light of, its not wise of the villain to tell the good guy his/her plan while holding them at gunpoint (or laser-point as Goldfinger used). Unfortunately, The Recruit does just that in its final minutes, leaving a bitter taste in the audience’s mouth. When a movie goes into the final sequence already garnering an eventual ho-hum review, such a lackluster ending is acceptable, as its a tried and true formula. When you have a film that has as much promise, though, such an ending is saddening if not depressive. In these days when it seems all movies simply exist for entertainment value and art comes second (if at all), its very disheartening to see a movie that has so much going for it, throw it all away in the final minutes.

Visually, The Recruit is rather boring. Take the HIGHLY overrated XXX for example, in that film, there was quite a bit of color used and significant portion of the movie took place in Prague. Yet in The Recruit, all of the film takes place in a gloomy Washington D.C., where everything is dark black, cloudy gray, or sterile white. A blank color palate can add to the ambiance of a film, like the Brad Pitt/Morgan Freeman thriller Se7en, yet this scenario, the reserved use of color makes The Recruit visually unimpressive, and hampers the emotional flow of the film.

Colin Farrell is everywhere! Its like Leo-mania back in 1998! Yet while Leonardo DiCaprio only has his moments (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?), Colin Farrell has been white hot in everything he has performed in. His turn in last year’s best movie, Minority Report, was memorable despite the lack of screen time, and just recently he had a chance to chew some scenery, as well as not have to adapt an American accent, as Bulls Eye in the superhero flick Daredevil. The Recruit is the first time we have seen him in a leading role, and he shines. He evokes all the necessary emotions, facial expressions and delivers the lines impeccably. He most certainly could have been better, but considering this was his first leading role, I am going to cut him a little slack. Of course it doesn’t hurt to be acting opposite quite possibly one of this generations finest, Al Pacino. Al’s performance is a step above his last two in S1m0ne and Insomnia, when he looked old and exhausted. Its been a while since we have seen Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman or Devil’s Advocate form, but this is sure a step in the right direction. Playing the love interest of James Clayton is Bridget Moynahan, who is probably best known as Mr. Big’s fiance/ex-wife on Sex and the City. The most important factor for a love interest in chemistry with the leading man or woman, and Bridget certainly has that quality. She and Colin Farrell play well against each other and make a fantastic couple on screen. If not for these three solid performance, The Recruit would have really suffered.

I hate to admit it, but I think I am being particularly harsh to The Recruit to set an example that I will not let a film slip by with a 3+ star rating if the ending feels like a side note, filmed at the last minute. However, I think Hollywood needs a wake up call. I firmly believe that if a movie is clever, appealing, and does not prescribe to Dr. Hollywood’s prescription of 10 cliches, once per movie, then the public will come. Until the day when the real movie villains, the producers, decide to take a step out of the box, it looks like the movie going public and the critics will be left with the same trite dribble. Fortunately for The Recruit, it was only scathed by the crushing blow of a cliche once, albeit a heavy blow.

© 2003 Jacob Sproul

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