Touchstone Pictures // 2003 // 115 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // May 30th, 2008
In the CIA, nothing is what it seems.
"Rule Number One: Do not get caught." -- Walter Burke (Al Pacino)
James Clayton (Colin Farrell, Miami Vice) is a bright guy with a bright future. He's a computer programmer who has just received a lucrative offer from Dell, and he's thinking about taking it. However, they're not the only ones who want to provide James with a career. A man named Walter Burke (Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman) shows up, and makes James an offer. Walter wants James to join the CIA. The pay is nothing compared to what James might be making as a computer programmer, but the CIA is...well, it's the CIA. James accepts the job, and begins his training.
At first, things are pretty simple. James learns a lot of useful information, everything from how to pass a lie detector test to combat tactics. He also finds himself attracted to one of his fellow trainees, the lovely Layla (Bridget Moynahan, Lord of War), and slowly treads into something vaguely resembling a romance. Before you can say "Red Herring", James suddenly has the rug pulled out from underneath him. Walter adjusts James' assignment position about ninety degrees, and sends him marching in a new direction. This new situation is suspicious to say the least, but James can't seem to figure out who wants to get what, much less why. Is there a conspiracy of some sort going on? If so, can James solve the mystery, or is he merely a pawn in a plan he will never understand?
The Recruit was directed by Roger Donaldson, a director who has one of the more unpredictable and uneven resumes in Hollywood. Consider such films as The Bounty, No Way Out, Cadillac Man, Species, Dante's Peak, Thirteen Days, The World's Fastest Indian, and The Bank Job: you've got some good ones, some bad ones, and they're all good or bad for completely different reasons. Like so many things (boxes of chocolates, etc.), you never know what you're going to get with one of Donaldson's films. The fact that The Recruit stars such talented actors as Al Pacino and Colin Farrell is not much of an indication, either...both actors have been very hit-and-miss in the past decade when it comes to picking projects. Okay, let's stop beating around the bush and get to it all ready: is The Recruit worth a watch?
Yeah, I think so. The movie is a fun little thriller that provides a good deal of entertainment, as long as your expectations aren't too high. The film's pleasures are small scenes, little moments, and individual performances. I enjoyed watching all the training sequences in the film's first half, which provide an entertainingly unrealistic look at how CIA agents are supposedly taught to do what they do. These scenes also provide Al Pacino a generous opportunity to chew on the scenery and make colorful speeches. Pacino has a lot of fun with the character, even though he has played this same antagonistic mentor character in numerous other films. Colin Farrell's understated performance is a nice match for Pacino's over-the-top turn, and their scenes together really sparkle. Pacino provides the interesting actions, and Farrell offers equally interesting reactions. During the aforementioned early scenes, they both work on establishing their own characters, and then are handed plenty of generous opportunities to play off each other in the more suspenseful second half.
The Recruit offers a nice sense of atmosphere as well. The gloomy corporate government set design combines with Klaus Badelt's perpetually dour score to provide the feeling of a rainy day without any rain. This works particularly well during the film's first hour, assuring the audience that the film has something more sinister than some challenging training exercises just around the corner. The movie is also refreshingly relaxed for a thriller of this sort. It's content to reveal its surprises slowly and quietly, and tends to avoid the sort of hyperactive action scenes that many movies like this would attempt to shoehorn in.
The film looks pretty good in high-definition, and one is better able to appreciate the low-key but very impressive visual world the film creates. It's not the sort of film that calls attention to itself visually by any means, but the attention to small and mundane details is quite noteworthy. However, I did notice just a couple of minor scratches on this transfer, which is surprising for a film made as recently as 2003. The sound design is not terribly complex, but solid, placing the spotlight on Badelt's percolating score. DVD extras are fairly run-of-the-mill, simply borrowing the extras that were offered on the original DVD release. A few deleted scenes aren't terribly interesting, and neither is the featurette "Spy School: Inside the CIA Training Program". However, the commentary with Donaldson and Farrell has a few anecdotes of interest for fans of the film.
The film's biggest flaw is the ending. Not so much the plot developments, which are acceptable standard-issue thriller material, but the climatic scene. In this scene, the true villain of the film is revealed. The villain has a perfectly solid opportunity to score a quick victory, but instead he turns to one of the oldest mistakes in the book...making a speech. The speech goes on and on and on and on, giving the hero of the film just enough time to come up with a plan, secretly execute the plan, and...well, you know. It's a crummy finish to an otherwise engaging little thriller.
The director and both lead actors have done considerably better work, but The Recruit is a reasonably satisfying movie that would make a good rental.
The screenplay is guilty of giving the villain a gloating monologue, but otherwise the film is free to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Commentary with Roger Donaldson and Colin Farrell
* Deleted Scenes
* "Spy School: Inside the CIA Training Program"
* Original DVD Verdict Review