Back home and starting a civilian life with wife Pam (Lauren London), Kelly attempts to adjust to normalcy. He has a new job and a baby on the way. Those dreams are shattered though when Russian special forces break into his home, killing his pregnant wife and leaving John for dead. After a stint in the hospital, he’s told by the CIA to let it go. U.S. intelligence deems the death of his wife as the cost of doing business; they don’t want to accelerate these tit-for-tat murders into a war. But John couldn’t care less about the CIA’s spy games. Soon enough he’s brutalizing any Russian agent he can get his hands on in the hopes of finding the man who killed his wife.
With the help of his old SEAL buddy and current naval officer Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith), John is going to shoot, torture, and kill all his way to Russia and the center of an international conspiracy—eventually even getting the Defense Department to bankroll his revenge.
Written by Sheridan with a sensibility in keeping with the complicated politics of the Sicario movies, as well as Hell or High Water, Without Remorse sports a grounded cynicism designed to give its action bite. However, this bit of realpolitik is mainly window-dressing, a bit of flavor on top of what is essentially a straight ahead revenge yarn. It thus lands closer to the absurdity of Sicario 2 than the one directed by Denis Villeneuve. With that said, there’s some irresistibly gruesome set-pieces throughout Without Remorse to keep the blood up and flowing.
In one sequence, John crashes his car into a Russian diplomat’s vehicle and then pours gasoline on top of it. He then enters the burning vehicle for a flyby round of interrogation. It’s like a speed dating version of a Jack Bauer torture session in 24. Also like that series, Without Remorse unapologetically leans into satisfying that caveman side of the brain, albeit now done with a lot more flair.
That added swagger clearly comes from Jordan, who appears ready to announce his action star bona fides. The actor of course already starred as the villain in Black Panther, and entered the ring for more than one Creed film, but as the man who will be John Clark, Jordan gets closer to the Rambo side of the Sylvester Stallone paradigm. There’s even a sequence where Jordan takes his shirt off for no other reason than to let his foes stare at his washboard abs before he breaks their heads in. It’s absolutely earned.
It’s a shame though the movie he’s in couldn’t do a little bit more with its conventions. In a wise move, the Without Remorse film plays fast and loose with the novel’s many elements. In addition to the film replacing the Vietnam War with a modern conflict, a whole subplot about prostitution drug rings has also been wisely cut. Yet the movie still unfortunately keeps the novel’s lazy inciting incident of a love interest being killed off to justify the hero’s pain.