Film Reviews: Wednesday, January 30, 2003
The Recruit
Starring Al Pacino and Colin Farrell. Directed by Roger Donaldson. Written by Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer, and Mitch Glazer. Rated PG-13.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Training Days

You’ll be three steps aheadof the action in the tiredspy thriller The Recruit.

By KRISTIAN LIN

Like many stodgy, formulaic spy thrillers before it, The Recruit is built on three characters. There’s a veteran spymaster who knows all the tricks; a younger spy who becomes his student and soaks up everything the older man teaches him; and a beautiful woman with whom the young spy falls in love, until the spymaster warns him that she might be working for the enemy. The dynamic is always the same. It’s never about a female agent romantically involved with a man who might be the enemy, even though surely enough women have applied to worldwide intelligence agencies to make that a plausible scenario. Where’s that spy movie? Better yet, why can’t it be a female spymaster warning her male protégé not to trust the woman he’s with? There’s a fraught situation. Of course, a really adventurous thriller would make the younger spy a gay man or woman who doesn’t know whether to trust his or her romantic partner. Is the world ready for that movie? The only way to find out is for someone to make that film.

The Recruit doesn’t do any of these things, which is partly why it’s less interesting than an average episode of Alias. The spymaster is CIA instructor Walter Burke (Al Pacino), and the recruit is MIT graduate James Clayton (Colin Farrell — you’d think we’d have heard about it if MIT grads looked like him in real life). There’s no real action in the entire first half of the film, which only covers Clayton’s training, as he learns how to handle weapons, beat lie detectors, plant surveillance equipment, and withstand interrogation. This is supposed to establish the relationship between Burke and Clayton, but there’s hardly enough material in the script to do that. Pacino goes through the movie on auto-pilot, and you can almost forgive him when you consider that his dialogue consists entirely of lines such as, “If you want answers, you’re in the wrong car. All I got are secrets.”

Things pick up marginally when Burke informs Clayton that the fellow agent (Bridget Moynahan) whom he started sleeping with during training is a mole. The two agents are soon focused on outwitting each other like a couple of chessmasters, and Clayton never asks a rather obvious set of questions that would help him unravel the plot much quicker. His father issues are supposed to prevent him from doing so, but regardless, it’s no fun for us when we’re three steps ahead of the whodunit. Farrell continues to be an intriguing presence with a dark, angry edge to go with his Brad Pitt-like looks, and Moynahan works industriously in a thankless role, but they can’t jump-start this leaden piece of junk.

Neither can action-film hack Roger Donaldson (No Way Out, Dante’s Peak), who directs rather lugubriously. The movie ends up with theTraining Days

You’ll be three steps aheadof the action in the tiredspy thriller The Recruit.

BY KRISTIAN LIN

ike many stodgy, formulaic spy thrillers before it, The Recruit is built on three characters. There’s a veteran spymaster who knows all the tricks; a younger spy who becomes his student and soaks up everything the older man teaches him; and a beautiful woman with whom the young spy falls in love, until the spymaster warns him that she might be working for the enemy. The dynamic is always the same. It’s never about a female agent romantically involved with a man who might be the enemy, even though surely enough women have applied to worldwide intelligence agencies to make that a plausible scenario. Where’s that spy movie? Better yet, why can’t it be a female spymaster warning her male protégé not to trust the woman he’s with? There’s a fraught situation. Of course, a really adventurous thriller would make the younger spy a gay man or woman who doesn’t know whether to trust his or her romantic partner. Is the world ready for that movie? The only way to find out is for someone to make that film.

The Recruit doesn’t do any of these things, which is partly why it’s less interesting than an average episode of Alias. The spymaster is CIA instructor Walter Burke (Al Pacino), and the recruit is MIT graduate James Clayton (Colin Farrell — you’d think we’d have heard about it if MIT grads looked like him in real life). There’s no real action in the entire first half of the film, which only covers Clayton’s training, as he learns how to handle weapons, beat lie detectors, plant surveillance equipment, and withstand interrogation. This is supposed to establish the relationship between Burke and Clayton, but there’s hardly enough material in the script to do that. Pacino goes through the movie on auto-pilot, and you can almost forgive him when you consider that his dialogue consists entirely of lines such as, “If you want answers, you’re in the wrong car. All I got are secrets.”

Things pick up marginally when Burke informs Clayton that the fellow agent (Bridget Moynahan) whom he started sleeping with during training is a mole. The two agents are soon focused on outwitting each other like a couple of chessmasters, and Clayton never asks a rather obvious set of questions that would help him unravel the plot much quicker. His father issues are supposed to prevent him from doing so, but regardless, it’s no fun for us when we’re three steps ahead of the whodunit. Farrell continues to be an intriguing presence with a dark, angry edge to go with his Brad Pitt-like looks, and Moynahan works industriously in a thankless role, but they can’t jump-start this leaden piece of junk.

Neither can action-film hack Roger Donaldson (No Way Out, Dante’s Peak), who directs rather lugubriously. The movie ends up with the bad guy telling the good guy every detail of his plan for no reason other than to incriminate himself and give the hero a chance to escape. It’s only the last cliché resorted to by a creatively bankrupt yawner of a spy thriller.


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