A brilliant young CIA trainee is asked by his mentor to help find a mole in the Agency.
Year 3, Film #4
THE GOOD: Much as the story of The Sum of All Fears was so good because it focused on the aftermath of a nuclear explosion instead of just dealing with stopping one, The Recruit has an interesting story because its primary focus is on the actual training of a CIA operative instead of the missions they go on afterwards. New territory leads to new opportunities and ones that The Recruit takes advantage of. Most notably is the idea of when the testing stops and when a mission begins. The recruits, including James Clayton (Colin Farrell), are told repeatedly that everything is a test no matter what they’re doing. And in the beginning, you the viewer are very aware of this and second guess certain events. But as the story unfolds and you become more accustomed to the goings on, you let down your guard which leads to some interesting twists that seem to come out of the blue.
Walter Burke (Al Pacino) is a great character and Pacino’s performance really is a highlight of the film. Over the years Pacino has been typecast not necessarily as a certain kind of character, but a certain kind of persona; one that shines through here. No matter how often I see Pacino yelling in his scratchy voice it never gets old. And in the case of CIA instructor Burke the persona and character match perfectly. If there’s ever a time for a grumpy old man who will take none of your flack, it’s with Walter Burke.
THE BAD: Where the film’s focus on the relatively new territory of CIA training falters though is in part with the unfamiliarity. I wouldn’t say the confusion that comes with this film is because of it’s newness or it’s attempt to cover new ground but in the execution. As I mentioned, there’s a big deal made as to what is a test and what is not. This does lead to some exciting twists that you don’t expect, but after the big finale instead of being immediately blown away, I sat there with my eyebrows furrowed puzzled as to what everything just meant. And even after I thought I understood what happened, I wasn’t completely satisfied until I confirmed by checking the ever-reliable Wikipedia. It’s as if in an attempt to make things mysterious and puzzling, they overcomplicated the story and made it too complicated and confusing instead of entertaining.
And without getting into spoliers, another complaint is with the structure of the film which also ties back into the confusion element. The film’s structure has a modicum of sense in retrospect as you reflect with the credits rolling. But as you watch the film, part of the confusion that arises is also due to not being sure when a certain switch takes place. A decent way through the film, my initial thought of “great story” turned into “wow, this is just a standard plot”. This change in thought turned out to be incorrect and looking back I’m glad to have been fooled by it, but the fact remains that there’s a delicate balance between mystery and outright disorder. You always want to be intrigued and guessing at what comes next, but you should always be able to follow along. It could be following a trail of clues that you’re unsure of the meaning, but you need that trail. It’s a delicate balance hat The Recruit walks and sometimes falls on the right side, and at other times it wobbles onto the wrong side.
THE TAKEAWAY: An interesting story told from the point of view of CIA training instead of the usual missions that take place afterwards. Some great performances by Farrell and Pacino along with some unexpected twists carry the film to new heights but an overall sense of confusion brings the film down to a film that entertains, but leaves you scratching your head more than you ought to.
THE RATING: 3 out of 5