The Recruit movie review: stating the obvious

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Welcome to the Hollywood Action Movie, post September 11, wherein the hero is a jaded rogue with a videogame-honed trigger finger and his own conspiracy-theory Web site, the villain is a jaded rogue driven mad by a lack of appreciation for a lifetime devoted to public service, and the best that can be said about America’s first and last line of defense — the milieu in which these two do battle — is that it is manned by “fat old white guys who failed us when we needed them the most.”

That’s a direct quote, near as I can remember it, from The Recruit, which is unlikely to be the only example of slam-bang popcorn fluff with so despairing a demeanor we’re likely to see in the near future. It’s pre-cynicized for your protection. Your own doubts about the fat old white guys can be checked at the door, for though this is a movie about the CIA, it’s a movie about people who have lost their faith in the CIA or who never trusted the CIA in the first place.

As a bonus, all pretense of suspense can be dispensed with if you’ve seen the trailer for The Recruit, which has been nearly impossible to avoid if you’ve been to the movies in the last few months. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the movie, for it spills, in the big picture, all secrets that can be spilled. Just imagine yourself an FBI agent in the summer of 2001, knowing what’s coming and unable to do anything about it. You just watch helplessly, awaiting the inevitable ending. It’s exactly the kind of fatalism we seem to be living with at the moment, so why not let it infuse our entertainment as well? Let’s call it the What’s The Damn Point? genre.

There are worse ways to spend a few hours, though, than in the company of Colin Farrell and Al Pacino. Farrell (Minority Report, Hart’s War) is a hotshot computer jockey hacker type guy, as most Xers in politicized action suspense thrillers are, plus he’s missing his long-dead dad something awful. Pacino (Simone, Insomnia) is the CIA spook who recruits him into the Company, plus he’s a handy-dandy father figure. But the clichéd dynamic is not why they’re worth watching. Not only is Farrell walking sex, the kind of movie star who simply oozes off the screen and snuggles up to you, but the boy can act, too. Even lumbered with all the usual inanities of action suspense thrillers — the car chases, the girlfriend he can’t trust, the let’s-type-on-the-computer-keyboard-and-pretend-it’s-exciting scenes — Farrell is far more sympathetic than he has any right to be. We may have (correctly) predicted everything that’s about to happen, but his James Clayton is in the dark, and he makes James’s apprehension and doubt so palpable that we can forget we know what’s coming and get caught up in worrying right along with James. Farrell is more than a match for Pacino’s Walter Burke, who never gets steamrollered by Pacino’s godlike presence. Sure, Pacino is phoning it, right down to the minute facial twitches that speak hackneyed action-suspense-thriller volumes and the Standard Pacino Shouted Rant that explodes when he can’t hold in the story’s Message any longer. But Pacino phoning it in is more entertaining that many other actors’ most heartfelt performances, and I guess even gods deserve an easy day once in a while.

It’s all stylish and diverting Hollywood Velveeta, completely non-nutritious but sorta satisfying, but God, it’s exhausting. Every character, every plot point, every line of dialogue is meant to make us suspicious, make us see conspiracies and setups and lies and treason. Don’t we get enough of this on CNN every day?

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