Reviewed by: Megan Basham
Starring: Al Pacino, Colin Farrell, Bridget Moynahan, Gabriel Macht, Kenneth Mitchell
Directed by: Roger Donaldson
Produced by: Gary Barber, Jeff Apple, Roger Birnbaum
Written by: Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer, Akiva Goldsman, Mitch Glazer
Distributor: Touchstone Pictures
In a time when our nation’s foremost security agencies are coming under more scrutiny than ever before in history, a spy thriller investigating the hidden workings of the CIA should make for a pretty riveting film. Certainly, getting a glimpse into how trainees are recruited and by whom is one of least-explored, potentially fascinating topics of our time. Throw in a charismatic newcomer like Colin Farrell and a legend like Al Pacino and you’ve got a blockbuster that should practically write itself. Unfortunately, though, it’s certainly not the worst spy flick to come down the pike in recent years, “The Recruit” doesn’t quite deliver on its promise to provide an insider’s peek into the espionage game.
The film starts out well enough, making insightful observations about the spy business that are, in a strange way, somewhat analogous to the Christian life. Pacino points out that since money and recognition are necessarily ruled out as lures to his profession, what must really keep the trainees coming is their belief in absolute right and wrong. What’s more, he makes sure his pupils know that, though the world will always publicize and ridicule their failures, it will never focus on the successes they achieve (and the lives they save) everyday. Considering some of the vitriol being hurled at the President and his faith these days, such remarks seem especially appropriate.
Acting wise, the film showcases some impressive performances. As shallow as he seems when playing the bad-boy during Entertainment Tonight interviews, Colin Farrell is a surprisingly good actor. Instead of giving us the ultra-cool, “I live for this stuff” bravado we’ve come to expect from films starring Vin Diesel, Farrell’s Jim Clayton is the kind of intelligent, slightly reckless young man we believe the CIA would actually recruit. He’s still courageous, but he’s not such an idiot he doesn’t know when to be afraid. What’s more, he and fellow trainee Layla (Bridget Moynihan) experience sincere emotional conflict over their developing relationship versus their jobs—something it seems like any real human being, spy or not, would go through. (And points to the costume designer for dressing the lady in clothes she could actually carry out missions in.)
Al Pacino turns in his usual superior performance as Walter Burke, the senior officer who recruits and trains Clayton. And he and Farrell manage to make the most of the somewhat corny father/son tension of their relationship. So what’s the problem? Sadly, in the second half, the film loses its believable look-into-the-CIA feeling and resorts to every thriller formula in the book, complete with angry, gun-waving confession. Without giving too much away, it’s a little hard to accept that someone with Burke’s knowledge and year’s of experience could fall so easily to some young upstart. Similarly, you can’t help but wonder how come, if Jim is so intelligent, he never wonders why he never meets with any other CIA staff person.
Overall, “The Recruit” isn’t a bad movie—though two sexually suggestive scenes should make parents wary—it just disintegrates into a series of obvious “twists” by the end. I’d still love to see Farrell and Pacino paired again, let’s just hope that next time they don’t waste their talents on a project so average.