Touchstone Pictures // 2003 // 115 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // June 4th, 2003
Nothing is what it seems.
Everywhere you look these days, there's Colin Farrell. That boy's mug has been plastered all over the megaplexes lately, and it would seem he's hard at work becoming the next "It" boy. In the last fifteen months, he's starred in Hart's War, Minority Report, Phone Booth, The Recruit, and Daredevil, and now his face keeps popping up for the upcoming S.W.A.T. I've seen all but Phone Booth, and I have to admit he's quite talented. Even better than that, though, is that he's also been linked with little Miss Hottie, Britney Spears. Lucky bastard! Now let me share my recent stupid revelation about Colin: he's Irish! It wasn't until a few weeks back when I caught an E! interview with him that I heard him speak with his natural accent. Hey, don't blame me for not knowing; for he has covered his accent in all the movies I've seen him in. Okay, so I'm stupid and gullible...but don't quote me on that.
After seeing Colin steal the spotlight from Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise, and Ben Affleck in his recent flicks, I was mighty curious to see how he would stand up with one of the true all-time greats: Mr. Al Pacino. A man who could undoubtedly make the recitation of an Alan Greenspan testimony worthy of Oscar consideration, Pacino had to be in top form to ward off Colin's attacks. The Recruit is all the better because of their excellent performances.
James Clayton (Colin Farrell) is an exceptionally gifted student at M.I.T. Along with a few of his classmates, James has developed a program called Sp@rtacus, a program that allows a computer with wireless technology to enslave other computers. This program, along with James' innate talents, has attracted the eye of Walter Burke (Al Pacino, The Godfather, Scarface, Scent of a Woman). Burke, it turns out, is a recruiter for the CIA. He wants James, and he will not accept no as an answer. By giving James the hard sell and making intimations about his late father, Burke is able to convince James to enter into the testing process.
After a large volley of intelligence and psychological testing, James is accepted in the CIA Career Training program at The Farm: a secret facility where recruits are trained in the black arts of espionage. James is a natural at this game and readily moves to the front of his class. While there, he meets a beautiful young woman named Layla (Bridget Moynahan, The Sum of All Fears, Serendipity, Coyote Ugly), who is very skilled in her own right; the two make an immediate connection. The training process continues where everything they encounter is a test, in some form.
In due course, the class graduates and the students are given a variety of jobs within the CIA. James and Layla receive their first assignments, but things are not as they appear. As their missions intertwine, the danger increases and they do not know whom to trust. Deceit and betrayal are par for the course, but how will they determine whether this is reality or just another test? In the CIA, nothing is what it seems.
In today's post-9/11 world, we've all noticed the up tick in patriotism and renewed interest in defending our country. In addition to that, there's always been an undercurrent of attraction for the "secret" agencies that protect us: NSA, FBI, CIA, and others. As mentioned in the film, since 9/11, there's been a dramatic surge in applications to all of these agencies by those looking to help prevent another horrific act of terrorism. Putting all of these factors together, The Recruit had the potential to be the perfect movie. By giving the audience a glimpse into the CIA and its secret training process, the film would tap into a current fascination and possibly become a hit along the lines of In the Line of Fire. Unfortunately, The Recruit is only partially successful in its charge.
There are two very different stories being told in this film, and one works while the other is a jumbled mess. For the first hour, you get an enthralling and entertaining look at how James is recruited and trained for fieldwork with the CIA. You get a great ride watching him learn the secrets of being a spy. Though it's all just a superficial look at what truly is an exhaustive process, it's great film. The problem arises in the second hour when James "graduates" from The Farm and is given his first mission. In turning the recruiting movie into a spy movie, The Recruit almost completely falls apart. This mission is a convoluted enterprise and is almost painful to watch. For all the supposed training James went through and all the insinuations that he's good, when James gets on the job, he's a terrible spy. I wouldn't be surprised that, if in real life an agent acted like James, he would be yanked from the program. Hence, all the fun and excitement of the first hour is lost during the murky closing half. And that's such a shame. During the optional commentary on a deleted scene, director Roger Donaldson (No Way Out, Species, Dante's Peak, Thirteen Days) states the movie is about the mission and not the training. I was saddened to hear that, for the training is better. And, wouldn't one think that a film called The Recruit would mostly focus on a recruit while a film about a mission might be called "The Spy"? I vote that the second half of the film be deleted, re-written, and re-filmed to completely focus on the time spent on The Farm.
As posited earlier, was Colin able to outshine Pacino is this film? No. While Colin does an excellent job as the kid who would be spy, he doesn't stand a chance against the sheer brilliance of Pacino. I think it's the weakness of the second half of the film that does Colin in, in part, but it's really a matter of experience. With so much familiarity with how it's all done, Pacino really is the consummate actor. This is one of his better roles in the past few years. He expertly utilizes actions, body language, his face, and his voice to bring utter believability to his character...though the second half does present some challenges for him too. It all looks so effortless for Pacino; maybe it actually is.
Quickly making its way to DVD, the transfers on this disc are well done. On the video side, there is a touch of controversy regarding the aspect ratio of the film. I've seen that the original theatrical release was 2.35:1 while the DVD is presented in 1.77:1. The packaging states that this ratio "shows more of the film than was presented in theaters." Though we here at The Verdict are all proponents of original aspect ratio, I'm not sure if there is a problem with this disc. Our usual plight is a film being butchered to full screen, which is clearly not the case here. I'm not sure of Donaldson's motivation (if it is indeed his) on the new ratio for the release, but I can at least say that the print here looks good and doesn't detract from the viewing experience. The print is clean and sharp, with accurate though subdued colors, good saturation, and solid blacks. I detected no obvious transfer errors in the print, yet I felt the video wasn't as strong and realistic as others I've seen. It's good, but I think it should be better. For the audio, you can choose either a 5.1 DTS or 5.1 Dolby Digital track. As is almost always the case, the DTS is the superior track of the two, with a more expansive atmosphere, harder bass, and better dynamics. However, don't fear, the DD track is very good too, just a few steps behind, but you'll have no problems with clear dialogue, solid cues, and no hiss or distortion.
There are a handful of special features on the disc to round out your viewing pleasure. First up is an audio commentary with Roger Donaldson and Colin Farrell. If you know anything about Colin in real life it's that he's something of a rogue. The lad loves his smokes, his booze, and his salty language. While he isn't allowed to smoke during the taping and it isn't clear if he has anything to drink, he certainly uses many colorful metaphors during the track. Unfortunately the prudes who put the commentary on disc decided that we wouldn't be able to handle his language so the more brusque phrases are silenced out. Hence, you have many silent gaps that aren't a result of the two forgetting to talk while watching the film. The track itself is an odd juxtaposition in that it's a combination of technical talk about the film, side stories about the film, and anecdotes about the two themselves. Blended together, it's a solid commentary that often has little to do with the film. But, on the whole, the track is still enjoyable because of Colin. He is a character and not afraid to speak his mind. In addition to the commentary are four deleted scenes -- with one that should have remained in the film as it expanded the training process -- with optional commentary by the two (wherein Colin's language is now "beeped" out). Lastly is a 16-minute featurette titled "Spy School: Inside the CIA Training Program." It's a rather dry feature that doesn't impart much new information, though you do get some interesting footage of actual CIA recruits in the training process. This could have been a better feature if most of it hadn't been composed of scenes from the film.
Much to my dismay, you get three trailers at the start of the disc, The Hot Chick, Shanghai Knights, and Bringing Down the House. These do not belong before the movie, but as an option off the main menu. And, where's the trailer for The Recruit?
I must reemphasize the poor outing of the second-hour spy movie; it simply fails. The purported story of intrigue and deception is razor-thin and sloppy. The Recruit needs to have retained its focus on the training process and skipped any attempt at sending the characters on a mission. The film would have been 100% better had the director realized where the strength of the film rested.
I keep saying it, but it's true. If only all 115 minutes had been devoted to the training process, then I would have enjoyed this movie far more. Instead, we're left with a mediocre movie that builds you up but steals it all away. Though filled with excellent acting by Pacino and Farrell, I am not able to recommend this film for purchase; however, I feel it's worthy of a rental due to a solid first hour. Give it a try and judge for yourself if you find two different movies that don't mesh well together. Perhaps you'll find something more redeeming in the last hour than I did. I wish I could have.
Roger Donaldson is found guilty and is hereby sentenced to two months of time at a minimum-security facility for his failed concept on the spy movie.
The Recruit is found not guilty by reason of insanity and is hereby sentenced to a psychiatric facility for evaluation of its split personalities.
Review content copyright © 2003 Eric Profancik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Audio Commentary with Director Roger Donaldson and Colin Farrell
* "Spy School: Inside the CIA Training Program"
* Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
* Central Intelligence Agency