Friday, January 31, 2003
The Recruit / *1/2 (2003)
This doesn't necessarily mean the plot twists themselves have much surprise in them, though. Like "The Devil's Advocate," a movie that saw Al Pacino in a similarly irritating role, "The Recruit" bewilders us not by unleashing unpredictable outcomes, but by meandering on and on with details until general specifics never quite makes much sense. A lot of the story's tactics can actually be seen coming from a mile away, but it's how they're addressed afterwards that leaves a lot of clutter behind. Whose side do certain characters really fall on? Do specific events really play out the way we're led to believe? And what exactly are the motivations behind everything? The overly-elaborate struggle between facts and guesses becomes tiresome rather quickly, and by the end some of us are frantically searching for aspirin as a result.
The movie stars Colin Farrell as James Clayton, a young and sharp-witted computer guru who is on the heels of major job offers after his top-of-the-class graduation from M.I.T. Dell Computers is one such company eager to utilize the many talents he enjoys teasing, but James is more intrigued himself by the offer of another onlooker: the mysterious and witty Walter Burke (Al Pacino), who claims to be a recruiting agent for the C.I.A., not to mention an acquaintance of the guy's dead father. Clayton allows himself to be easily whisked into the Central Intelligence Agency for training, but his motives are somewhat misguided from the very start. When he asks Walter with seeming confusion, "do I have to kill anybody?", the aged recruiter simply responds "would you like to?", and nothing more is said of the matter.
The movie's first act is centered on the training camp James and other abiding pupils are sent to. Dubbed "The Farm" by all those who reside over it as instructors, here is an establishment that can take the simplest mind and reshape it into a relentless espionage machine without regard to fear or consequence. The students are introduced to nifty gadgets, perform perilous tasks for assessment, and are given veiled reminders of the importance of organizational secrecy. James not only finds this material stimulating, but also challenging both physically and mentally, elements which he is happy to test out in front of Layla (Bridget Moynahan), the classmate whom he hopes to impress (although she occasionally is up one notch on her own power schemes).
The repeating element behind the script's motivation is one simple but ill-fated phrase—"Everything is a test." To fill this bracket, James and his companions are thrown into test after test in the movie, and afterwards get caught up in dangerous predicaments that, predictably, turn out to be more extreme tests themselves. Then the movie abandons the "Farm" concept and moves right into the workplace, in which Walter assigns James to follow around and observe his attractive former classmate, whom the agency assumes is a double agent working secretively on trying to get a deadly computer virus out of the main offices and into the nation's computers (or something to that effect). Needless to say, that may not be all there is to this particular scenario, either. But is it really a test? Or are there other tests we don't yet know about that are just making us believe this is all just a test in the first place?
"The Recruit" makes the dubious effort of shrouding its situations in seeps of intrigue, but every twist and device that is thrown at the screen is easily anticipated far in advance. When details come to light, there is no surprise or sense of shock whatsoever, just brief and tedious explanations as to why it is important for things to play out in a certain way without the participants knowing beforehand. As the movie progresses with this notion, however, the explanations and apologies get longer and even confusing, blurring certain lines of prior reasoning and then tearing open other potential subplots in the process. Where does it all lead, though? Absolutely nowhere. The picture's idea of action involves characters silently sneaking through corridors and following targets hoping not to be seen, with the occasional jump from around a corner here and there to diversify the pattern. To say it all becomes rather boring is an understatement.
Colin Farrell and Al Pacino are fine actors trapped here by a script that refuses to provide their characters with either depth or instinct. Farrell's James is your average whiz kid who trusts too many and doesn't ever quite have the incentive to smell a setup, but that's only a surface scratch for the film compared to Pacino's character, a creepy and annoying creature who recites long paragraphs of dialogue like an evangelist raised on ironic metaphors. Towards the end of the movie, we even get an awkward and perplexing confrontational speech that reveals, among other things, lots of untapped ideas and perspectives from earlier situations or brief discussions from previous encounters. And even after that climactic convulsion, James still doesn't have the sense to ask if that was all just a test, too.
Written by DAVID KEYES
Cast & Crew info:
Al Pacino: Walter Burke
Colin Farrell: James Clayton
Bridget Moynahan: Layla
Gabriel Macht: Zack
Kenneth Mitchell: Alan
Produced by Jeff Apple, Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Jonathan Glickman and Ric Kidney; Directed by Roger Donaldson; Screenwritten by Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer and Mitch Glazer
Thriller/Action (US); Rated PG-13 for violence, sexuality and language; Running Time - 105 Minutes