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The Recruit

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jan
The Recruit

from Film Forum, 02/06/03

In The Recruit (Touchstone), the new film by Roger Donaldson (No Way Out, Thirteen Days), Colin Farrell stars as James Clayton, a CIA trainee who falls into love and trouble. His supervisor (Al Pacino) puts him through rigorous trials but dodges Clayton's questions: "I don't have answers … only secrets." When he is given a mission where "nothing is as it seems"—Is it ever as it seems in CIA-themed films?—Clayton falls for a mysterious co-spy (Bridget Moynahan), which complicates his efforts to dig up a dangerous mole.

This is the film that will make Farrell, who made a strong impression as a gum-chewing federal officer in Minority Report, a household name. A parade of upcoming action films (a hero in Phone Booth, a villain in Daredevil) will further cement him as a new action hero regular. He may be a compelling leading man, but that is not enough to make religious press critics applaud this film. They give it high marks for entertainment, but criticize its routine storytelling and unsurprising surprises.

Lynn Nusser (Preview) says it's worth seeing. Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) calls it "an evenly paced, smartly filmed, and entertaining if unremarkable film." Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) agrees: "It's never hard to guess what's really going on … [but the movie] is slick enough to be entertaining to the end." Holly McClure (Crosswalk) writes, "I liked the chemistry between Pacino and Farrell, but apart from those scenes, Pacino has played this same character many times before."

Gerri Pare (Catholic News Service) also gives the movie a pass: "Donaldson maintains suspense and a brisk pace in equal parts, which makes for an engrossing thriller. The serpentine twists are always involving, as layer after layer of deceit is peeled away. The Recruit is likely to sign up its target young-male audience—and do double duty in recruiting candidates for the CIA."

Bob Smithouser (Focus on the Family) agrees: "It's a nail-biter that hangs together pretty well, logically speaking, and doesn't go so far as to betray our rooting interest in the main character." He then launches into harsh criticism of the actor, Colin Farrell, for his behavior outside of moviemaking.

Movieguide's critic calls it "a good spy yarn. Clayton is … a noble person who tries to do the right thing for his country in every case. He truly believes and is committed to his course." But he adds that the film is "by no means a Christian movie." (Perhaps if one of the characters had used the term "Godspeed," Movieguide would have held a different opinion. After all, that is one of the main reasons why it called Spiderman a "positive, moral, redemptive" movie.)

Meanwhile, Will Johnson (Relevant Magazine) turns in a post-viewing tirade, calling it "atrocious. The script is contrived, poorly written, and bland. Down to the plot twists and techno soundtrack, this movie is the least original film I've seen in a long time."

Mainstream critics are responding with similarly ho-hum compliments. Ty Burr (Boston Globe) calls it "decent escapism: a serviceable spy thriller that stumbles over one too many plot twists, one too many shots of its hero typing desperately at his computer, and a romantic subplot that's nice to look at but awfully silly." Roger Ebert praises the actors: "The early scenes in the film are entertaining … because Pacino works his character for all its grizzled charm, and Colin Farrell is not only enormously likeable but fascinates us with his permanent four-day beard. It's the kind of movie you can sit back and enjoy, as long as you don't make the mistake of thinking too much."