The initial thought of seeing a thriller about the CIA is not very
tempting. It is a subject that, to most degrees, has been exhausted
to the point of being strictly formulaic. Directed by Roger Donaldson,
"The Recruit" is not exactly fresh, but its intense storyline and
engaging characters gradually manage to enthrall you up until the
clumsily orchestrated climax.
James Clayton (Colin Farrell) is an MIT graduate whose advanced computer
skills have attracted a number of potential employers at a college
job fair. One of these potentials is Walter Burke (Al Pacino), who
believes James has what it takes to join the CIA. James, whose father
died in the line of duty for the same company, willfully accepts.
First, however, he is taken with his fellow recruits to "The Farm,"
a sort of CIA basic training program that Walter warns him, "is never
what it seems." Following the program, James is hired as a "noc" (non-official
cover operative) to wart out a supposed double agent, who happens
to be fellow recruit he has fallen for, Layla (Bridget Moynahan).
For most of its running time, "The Recruit" is undeniably compelling,
as the viewer follows James every step of the way through the tricky
basic training and then onto a real mission where the evolving relationship
between he and Layla is at stake. Because it is spelled out a number
of times that nothing is at it seems at "The Farm," some of the plot
twists screenwriters Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer, and Mitch Glazer have
developed are instantly predictable. Others are less so, particularly
in the second half, and the journey director Roger Donaldson takes us on is a fun one.
With that said, the finale is all wrong. Following a chase sequence
through the desolate interiors of a train station that ratchets up
a fair helping of tension, the disclosure of the real crooked character
of the piece is a letdown. Through the overly talky and unconvincing
writing, the film almost becomes a "Scream" knock-off, as the bad
guy prattles on about his or her master plan while holding a loaded
gun at the hero. It is all very cornball, although not such a tragic
fatality that it cheapens the rest of what is an admittedly entertaining ride.
For the very first time, Colin Farrell (2002's "Minority Report")
has been given an assured and worthwhile role that makes good on his
current "it"-boy status. Farrell is an intense and dedicated actor
who reminds one of a younger and less generically handsome Tom Cruise.
As Walter Burke, who uses his powers of persuasion to convince James
to join the CIA, Al Pacino is back in the type of part he could play
in his sleep after his riveting performance in 2002's "Insomnia."
And Bridget Moynahan (2002's "The Sum of All Fears"), whom I haven't
been a huge fan of, is actually much better than expected as Layla.
Moynahan has created a sympathetic character even as her very intentions
are always in question, and she and Farrell have unforced chemistry together.
"The Recruit" isn't terribly original, and the final fifteen minutes
of revelations are more likely to have you rolling your eyes than
blown away, but its one novel idea--taking an insider's look at the
CIA's training program--saves the picture from seeming like a simple
retread of well-worn material. And this is undoubtedly the movie that
once and for all introduces Colin Farrell is a star-in-the-making.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman