February 7, 2003

Spy vs. Spy vs. … Spy?

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They’re out there, somewhere. Meeting in dark alleys, hacking into the world’s top-coded computers, saving our country and our lives without us even knowing. Stuff goes down right behind our backs and we never hear a word about the jobs of spies, operatives and whoever else works for the CIA. The Recruit tells the story of a top-of-his-class MIT graduate who crosses the line into the unknown, literally, to work for the CIA. After being recruited into CIA training by a knowledgeable and convincing Walter Burke (Al Pacino), James Clayton (Colin Farrell) enters a realm of dangerous mind games that no class could ever prepare him for.

The Recruit combines many thematic layers to advance its story from our hero Clayton’s recruitment and training to actively working for the CIA. The film begins by showing his ingenious and witty side, as he impresses a Dell representative with self-made software. This suave introduction gives Clayton a sense of control and preparedness throughout the movie, something that becomes advantageous as numerous twists emerge. Along comes the deep voiced, semi-charming Walter Burke whose apparent knowledge of Clayton’s deceased father force James to consider a life less ordinary and more intense. As in Top Gun, it is the longtime aspirations of the son to live up to and find out about a dead father that motivate our hero on his mission. Or, it is such paternal bait that hooks him in.

From the moment the camera lays eyes on her, the beautiful Layla Morse (Bridget Moynahan) becomes a target for Clayton as they train together at the CIA center known as ‘the farm.’ Farrell and Moynahan have an on-screen chemistry that manages to capture the intensity of two masterminds falling for each other, and even sometimes, being forced to use each other in spy games. The troubles of starting a relationship and the quiet smiles of being together are easy to confuse with whether or not they are spying on each other. This ambiguity makes for interesting bedroom scenes and begins to show Clayton that he can’t trust anybody. The movie’s tempo and storyline peak in quality about three-fourths of the way through. This early departure from goodness would have been detrimental for Recruit if not for the affect Layla had on James, and for their steamy, spy vs. spy relationship that developed and changed meaning throughout the movie’s progression.

The ending wasn’t so much a letdown as it was, put simply, inferior to the middle. Like The Bourne Identity, the movie’s ongoing excitement and authenticity made the film a success, but forced the conclusion to be less than expected. The training at the farm is the best and least predictable segment of the movie. Well-shot mock missions, sweet ass technology, humor and the ability to see that ‘nothing is what it seems’ prepare the audience for the remainder of the film. We see James’ life catapult to paranoid solitude in every working minute.

A few things about the movie caught my eye, and others scared me in an unconventional way. Are any two guys at a bar discussing CIA recruitment? Do some of our best and brightest sacrifice everything to really live the lifestyle of the unacknowledged, unsung hero? The development of James from a witty techie to a dangerous criminal mind shows the audience that he is getting in over his head. His cunning abilities, however, manage to keep him in the game. The major concern I had with this film was that the big trap Clayton falls into could’ve easily been avoided. Though the overall sentiment of moviegoers was “that rocked!” a few of my friends and I figured out the ending with thirty minutes to go. Still, reflecting on the movie after seeing it, it is the manipulation of James Clayton that alters the audience’s view of several characters and themes while keeping the second half of the film on a fresh edge. Clayton’s susceptibility fools us, and that’s the simple recipe this film banks on. Much like The Ring, the plot grows over the course of the movie, and it is only at the end that we see that the actual storyline was a lot simpler than our racing mind’s perceived it to be.

In the end, Recruit is a mind game of an action movie worthy of your eight bucks. Pacino’s wispiness and Moynahan’s smile are enough to convince anyone in their right mind to become a spy. And above all, Colin Farrell pulls his weight. The emerging young actor brought fuel to the fire in this past summer’s triumph Minority Report. In this film, Farrell has a poise and sense of naturalness that the camera finds. Casting him over some no talent clown like Josh Hartnett gave this movie a lot of things to work with. So, thinking about seeing The Recruit? Go for it, it’s fast-paced suspense that ties a lot of interesting elements together with some nice techno pop hinting in the background of many chase scenes. Be careful about the ticket-stand worker, though, you never know for whom he is really working.

Archived article by Dan Cohen