You don’t want to get on John Kelly’s bad side.
In a community of tough-as-they-come hombres—the Navy SEALs—he’s the toughest of the bunch. Need someone surgically taken out? Choked into submission? Quietly blown up? John’s your guy.
Why, he proved it yet again during a mission in Aleppo, Syria, extracting a high-value hostage with his team as CIA operative Robert Ritter supervised. The fact that they were fighting some Russian soldiers? Well, sure, that seemed to surprise everyone but Ritter. And given the historic tensions between Russia and the U.S., the operation may shake up the decision-makers in Washington, D.C., a bit. But a few Russians certainly weren’t going to keep John and his team from getting their bloody jobs done.
Maybe they did their jobs too well.
Three months later, John’s old team is almost obliterated. One teammate gets run over by a van while taking out the trash. Another is gunned down while stuck in traffic. And John? Four well-trained gunmen invaded his house, killing John’s wife and unborn daughter. John nearly died himself, but not before three of the four assassins also lost their lives.
All three had ties to Russia.
Ritter and his higher-ups in the CIA want to close the case. Sad stuff about John’s wife and daughter and all, but no need to inflame an already tense international environment. Russia assassinating government employees on American soil? Why, that’s reason to start a war, and no one wants that.
But John lost everything in that attack the government wants to forget. His wife. His daughter. His future.
He wants just one thing now. John wants to make someone pay—pay for what they took from him, and pay for it in blood. He needs to know who that fourth gunman was and track his trail as far as he needs to in order to avenge his wife. He doesn’t care how many cages he’ll need to rattle, how many favors he’ll need to call in, how many people he’ll need to kill.
Revenge is all that matters. You don’t want to get on John Kelly’s bad side. And if a whole country’s on his bad side? Well, time for the Kremlin to lock its doors.
John’s one of the nicer killers you’ll ever meet. He’s willing to die for his teammates, and he proves that again and again here. But when he’s not on a mission, the SEAL is a loving husband, and he can’t wait to be a father. He’s willing to make sacrifices for his family, too: He’s thinking of switching his high-risk government job for a gig in private security. “Good hours, good pay,” he tells a friend.
When his wife and daughter are killed, he understandably loses it a bit. His commander and friend, Karen Greer, does her best to help him. At first, she feeds him information about the three Russian-linked assassins who died in his house—skirting the law, but helping a friend. But when a team is built to track down the fourth, Karen does something unexpected but probably pretty smart: She suggests to her superiors that John sit the mission out, worried that he’ll kill the guy they’re supposed to capture.
That’s the overarching goal, of course: to bring a killer to justice and find out what’s really going on; to uncover the truth behind it all, no matter how messy that truth might be. And while we can (and will) certainly take issue with the definition of “justice” given here, and the mode in which it’s pursued, you’ve got to admire the dedication that most everyone here has for uncovering that truth.
John seems to have visions of his dead wife. In one such vision, she’s ripped away from him. But in another, she simply talks with him and tells them that there’s a heaven.
“Is this it?” John asks.
“No, baby, it’s not,” she says.
At a funeral, someone reads from the Bible and quotes some versions of Matthew 6:13: “For yours is the power and the glory forever and ever.”
After coming home from a party, John kisses and cuddles with his pregnant wife and hopes to do more. He promises to be “quick,” but his wife, Pam, brushes him off—telling him that she needs her sleep for a big day at work the next day. He winds up on the couch listening to music.
We see John shirtless a couple of times.
We see perhaps dozens of people killed during the film, but the most jarring deaths are those that take place on American soil. One man is hit and run over by a van; the body tumbles underneath the wheels and the van speeds away. Another is shot several times through a car windshield: We see the bullet holes and a bit of blood. Someone is apparently immolated in a car, while another man drowns in one. In the latter case, we see the victim actually expire. Killers silently shoot John’s pregnant wife. (We hear John tell someone that she “drowned in her own blood.”
Other people die in combat. Most are shot to death, but others are victims of explosions (including one by a suicide vest). A man is strangled to death. Another is stabbed. Someone vanishes underneath water.
Close calls and non-fatal injuries are pretty common here, too. As mentioned in the intro, John is shot several times. We see those bandaged wounds and watch as he recovers in the hospital; he goes through what looks like a painful rehabilitation process. He and others nearly drown on a crashed and sinking plane. John shoots a man in the leg and the chest as a way to extract information, telling his victim that his lung has been punctured.
Someone fights with prison guards dressed in riot gear, overcoming several of them and holding one hostage. (“Close the door, or I’m gonna start snapping necks,” the prisoner says.) Lots of threats and hostile words are exchanged. Vehicles purposely smash into other vehicles. Gasoline is poured over a car and lit on fire, trapping the people inside. Russian police officers are killed by assailants, and someone blows up a couple of police cars, too.
Ten s-words and a peppering of other profanities, including “a–,” “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is misused twice, once with “d–n.” Jesus’ name is also abused twice.
At a party, John asks his pregnant wife whether she’d like a water. “I want some wine,” she jokes, before asking him to get her some iced tea.
Karen pours some whiskey in John’s coffee cup and tells him to drink. “That’s an order,” she adds when he hesitates. John pours alcohol all over his head while pretending to be very, very drunk.
John also puts his clothes in a bathtub and urinates them, again as part of a drunken disguise.
Some people hide important secrets. John and others disobey orders.
“This isn’t a revenge mission,” Lt. Cmdr. Karen Greer tells John as they head off to confront the man who killed John’s wife and unborn baby. “This is an extraction. We are going to bring him to justice.”
“I’m done making promises I can’t keep,” John says.
And therein lies the overarching issue with Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse.
Based on the Clancy novel of the same name (and the first in a two-part movie series featuring Michael B. Jordan as John Kelly), this film hooks into themes of a dangerous man grievously wronged and looking for some terminal retribution. And while the movie turns out to be more complicated than a pure revenge thriller, that thread runs mercilessly throughout. While Clancy’s thrillers have always been pretty cerebral, this one can feel downright cold.
The film is also rated R, which is a bit unusual for films based on Tom Clancy books. The problematic content here isn’t extreme for an R-rated movie, but it certainly depicts a whole lotta bodies and includes quite a few s-words.
For adults who dig Clancy’s books and the movies based on them, they’ll likely find some stuff to like here. For families looking for good viewing options this weekend, they’ll have to look for good stuff elsewhere.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.