The Recruit is the latest in a long line of seemingly endless spy thrillers with one major difference: This film focuses entirely on the idea that no one can be trusted.
Last year movies such as xXx, Die Another Day and The Sum of All Fears raked in big bucks at the box office by offering nothing more than flashy eye candy and mediocre story lines.
Instead of aiming for the obvious, The Recruit takes the road somewhat less traveled as it deals with one person’s own conflicts rather than the problems of the world.
From the start, The Recruit is one of those thrillers that delights in pulling the rug out from under you, only to find another rug below it.
James Clayton (Colin Farrell), an MIT-trained computer programmer, is recruited by Walter Burke (Al Pacino) to become an agent-in-training at the Farm, a mind-warped version of boot camp in which the threat of surveillance is a way of life. Once there, Clayton and his fellow spook trainees, including the obligatory love interest Layla (Bridget Moynahan), learn to plant bugs, withstand torture and conduct interrogations. More than that, they learn that “nothing is what it seems.”
When is a situation a setup? Who can you trust? Is this game deadly or real?
Moynahan gives an electrifying performance as the object of James’ affection. Throughout their training stint at the Farm, the romance between the two characters continues to escalate and comes off as genuine and realistic. His feelings toward Layla lead to his discharge from the CIA after giving up classified information during a simulated situation in which James is deceived into believing she is being tortured.
Shortly after the discharge he retreats to his hotel and spends the night drinking and trying to live down his failure. In a bizarre turn of events Walter tells James that he has graduated into the ranks of the “NOC” elite with little need for an explanation as to why he’s been chosen despite his past errors.
James goes undercover at the CIA headquarters, where he’s assigned to get the goods on Layla by drawing her into an affair. Walter tells James she’s a double agent who is out to steal a computer virus that could freeze the U.S. defense system.
The Pacino-as-grizzled-mentor movie (Donnie Brasco, et al) is, at this point, practically a genre unto itself. Pacino, speaks in one of his mad gravelly drawls, setting it up for Farrell to underplay, which the actor does beautifully, clueing us to the tiniest tremors of suspicion and fear.
James, navigating a Chinese box of deception, must finally act as his own authority and so does Farrell.
Farrell shoots across the screen with the authority of a sleek bullet. The new-era macho dude, typified by Russell Crowe, is equal parts brawn and brains, and Farrell is leading the way after delivering buzz-worthy performances in both Minority Report and the long-delayed Phone Booth.
In The Recruit, he stares out at the world with a moody, combative cool that makes paranoia seem hip.
However, the film itself is predictable at times and some of its aspects come off a bit too familiar to audiences.
The Recruit manages to overcome the abuse of an already worn-out and unoriginal plot twist by simply not letting it overpower the story — and it may have contributed to the making of a better picture.
Suspense, R, Running time: 105 min.
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