*** (out of 5)
January 31, 2003
Colin Farrell as JAMES CLAYTON
Al Pacino as WALTER BURKE
Bridget Moynahan as LAYLA
Gabriel Macht as ZACH
Kenneth Mitchell as ALAN
Directed by: Roger Donaldson
BY KEVIN CARR
Ever wonder what it would be like to be recruited for the spy game? How exciting would it be to be serving up drinks in a bar and have a CIA operative wander in and offer you the chance of a lifetime? Now, think about what the training must be like. Think about how your concept of trust and respect would be eroded and perverted in a job which requires you to lie, cheat and steal.
This is one of the many mind games that the film “The Recruit” plays with its audience.
James Clayton is a brash, young genius who has just aced his thesis project at MIT – a new technology that allows a single computer to infiltrate any wireless communications network. While he is at his bartending night job, he is visited by Walter Burke (Al Pacino), a CIA recruiter.
Burke brings Clayton in under his wing into the CIA. Part of the incentive to join is the mysterious death of Clayton’s father in 1990, which Burke implies was because he was a secret CIA agent. Anxious to not only follow in his father’s footsteps (as well as find out more about him), Clayton starts his program at the Farm, the elite training ground for the CIA. There, he meets the other recruits, including the beautiful Layla (Bridget Moynahan).
After a grueling training session, the new CIA recruits are let loose into the field to start their new assignments, which all leads to Kurt Vonnegut.
This film is a must-see for Kurt Vonnegut fans. Vonnegut references are abound, including allusions to “Slaughterhouse Five” and “Breakfast of Champions” as well as a plot point concept (Ice-9) borrowed from “Cat’s Cradle.” In “The Recruit,” Ice-9 isn’t a crystal of ice that will freeze the world overnight. Instead, Ice-9 is a virus that will infect and disable any electrical equipment that is interconnected – which is everything.
Clayton is given the mission of busting Layla, whom he is told is trying to steal the Ice-9 formula from the U.S. government. During his mission, Clayton falls for Layla, and vice versa. Still, they’re both trained spies and struggle to keep true to their missions.
The biggest problem with “The Recruit” is its wishy-washy plot. While the film has many twists and turns with characters and ideas being warped and redrawn, everything falls in place too easily. At each turn, you see the plot meandering down an unexplored path. However, no one is to be trusted… especially the writer who needs to make things tie up neatly in the end.
For the wild array of possible spins on the plot, there is ultimately no surprises. Even the critical plot points that aren’t given away in the trailer (and of these, there are numerous ones), I guessed the ending before the movie even started.
When it comes to action and suspense, “The Recruit” delivers. Trying to ride the wake of last year’s wildly successful “XXX,” this film helps build the new archetype of the young punk who is enlisted into the spy game. Colin Farrell plays a more dashing version of Vin Diesel’s Xander Cage, although the two are very similar.
This is the new American spy, Generation X’s answer to James Bond. These new spies don’t always play by the rules. They fight dirty. They don’t apologize. And they take everything – including their martinis – shaken and stirred.
However, the acting doesn’t get the highest marks, especially for veteran Al Pacino. There was once a time in this world when Al Pacino actually acted. Now, he seems to be retreading his stale performance from “Scent of a Woman” and “The Devil’s Advocate.” Well, at least he doesn’t say “Hoo-hah!” in this film.
The character of Burke is as stereotypical as they come, and Pacino doesn’t do anything to bring a fresh scent to that role. In fact, the scent is more of a man coming off a weekend drinking binge. And with bags under his eyes the size of half-dollars, he looks about the same as he has in every role he’s played over the last ten years.
There are glimpses of a real actor struggling to get out of Pacino, although they are rare. It’s as if Pacino is dying to act, but he’s either too old or director Roger Donaldson just isn’t allowing him to do it.
It is the underlying mind games and how the film forces its audience to ask how they could psychologically take a job like this that is the real interest of “The Recruit.” If these concepts are explored further with slightly more original plots in the future, this could lead to one heck of a franchise.