The Recruit
review by Gregory Avery, 31 January 2003

At one point in The Recruit, Al Pacino stops and turns to the young, fresh-faced male organisms sharing a van with him and tells them that they must go into a bar and return with an "asset who is willing to have sex" with them. That means they're supposed to pick-up some girls, folks, and -- hey -- this is a training exercise, so that, one day, they will be able to go out and serve as top-flight intelligence operatives for their country. Watching this, I wondered if any of the people I went to school with at BYU ever found themselves going through this sort of training after they had responded to one of the regular recruitment drives that the CIA held on-campus (If you had mathematics skills or Russian language skills, they were particularly interested in you). Back then, women not only wanted but expected to be treated as women, as well as equals. Now, they're called "assets." Something I don't think Lana Turner or Susan Hayward would expect to be called prior to women's-lib, either. That's progress for you.

Colin Farrell, of the deep, dark, wounded eyes and sturdy shoulders, plays James, who is convinced by Pacino's character, Walter Burke, that he has a brighter future ahead of him working for the Agency than he would as a software designer (debate that as you may). Training for rookies turns out to include constant surveillance and mock interrogations utilizing live electricity. Then, James has to snoop on one of his fellow trainees -- lovely Layla (Bridget Moynahan, Ben Affleck's main squeeze in The Sum of All Fears), who speaks fluent Farsi and may be a mole planted to ferry out some dangerous information. James must expose Layla, but what's to stop him from thinking that Burke has fed a similar story to Layla, thus pitting the two of them against each other for whatever purposes he wanted? As Burke continually asserts, the only thing for certain is that nothing is what it seems.

A while back, the director Roger Donaldson did No Way Out, a not-bad betrayal thriller (when it wasn't showing Kevin Costner and Sean Young trying to perform a full pin-down on each other) set at the Pentagon. The Recruit, filmed in mournful, gun-metal grays and blues, is one of Donaldson's better recent efforts, though I would hesitate to put it alongside his earlier, fine work in Smash Palace, The Bounty and Marie. Once you've figured out, about an hour into the picture, how James and Layla are going to play each other out, there's not much else left, even when the plot attempts an elegant triple-twist foité at the climax. There's one really fine kicker at the very end of the picture, though, but the bulk of the film feels like we've seen much of it, in one form or another, somewhere else before.

The kicker at the end may  work in part because of the way Colin Farrell plays the scenes where James expresses emotion over his vanished father, who may or may not have been working as an undercover agent. I've yet to see Farrell's acting talent explode across the screen -- since this is essentially commercial fodder, albeit with most of it's "i's" dotted and "t's" crossed, he may be saving his best stuff for a role that warrants it. Pacino gives an operatic performance where he keeps us off-kilter by finding unusual ways to cadence and inflect his line deliveries -- it's not as bad as his eye-bugging performances in Scarface and Devil's Advocate, but I'd hate to see him start relying on the same set of mannerisms and routines in film after film, the kind of thing which has seriously crimped Robert Duvall and Robert De Niro's recent work. As he showed in Insomnia last year, Pacino still has the ability to be a vital, searching performer. We'd like to be fooled as to whether he is or is not a Mephistophelean character in The Recruit, but, actually, he gives us the answer right from the start, so we wait, with polite attentiveness, to have it confirmed.

Directed by:
Roger Donaldson

Al Pacino
Colin Farrell
Gabriel Macht
Bridget Moynahan

Written by:
Roger Towne
Kurt Wimmer 
Mitch Glazer

PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.






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