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The Recruit
cast: Al Pacino, Colin Farrell, Bridget Moynahan, and Gabriel Macht

director: Roger Donaldson

110 minutes (12) 2002
Touchstone VHS rental or retail
Also available to rent or buy on DVD

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Emma French
Director Roger Donaldson has succeeded in making a fast-paced film, with genuinely exciting and suspenseful sequences throughout. Donaldson also directed the classic 1980s' Kevin Costner thriller No Way Out, which this film resembles in its ingenious plot twists and turns and loving depiction of Washington DC and Georgetown.
   Many of the strongest scenes are set in 'The Farm', a CIA training facility in which a group of elite young recruits are subjected to physical and psychological torments to assess their suitability for the CIA. Once the successful graduates move from The Farm to the Langley CIA site, often the film feels like just another hacker movie, with underwhelming technological gimmickry and a proliferation of meaninglessly flashy screensaver images. Nor does the film always resist cliché as much as it might like, suffering from some textbook thriller scenes: the hero works out his aggression on a punching bag, the feisty girl's hostility to the hero warms to animal attraction after brief banter. The intrusive musical score often blares inappropriately at key moments, diffusing dramatic tension.
   Colin Farrell excels as the talented ingénue James Clayton and generates good chemistry with Pacino, who is unusually low key as his head trainer and father figure, Walter Burke. In both The Recruit and the recent Insomnia, Pacino must be acknowledged as an actor of enduring versatility, far greater than his clichéd latter day reputation as a histrionic one-note performer. Hollywood marketers have carefully engineered Farrell's heartthrob status: on screen he is both less attractive and more talented than his tabloid pin-up image would suggest. Bridget Moynahan is a bland choice as love interest Layla Moore, and her acting range is limited to a variety of sultry pouts. Outclassed by Pacino and Farrell, her performance flounders in a sea of A-list machismo.
   The CIA agents are portrayed as fanatically convinced of their own rectitude, and willing to sacrifice all for information. Their indiscriminate surveillance of the most intimate scenarios smacks of the worst excesses of the criminal dictatorships they seek to undermine. Whilst it makes for good cinema, the film's utter cynicism regarding CIA tactics is frustrating if overstated; profoundly disturbing if it reflects real practice. In the most powerful scenes, Farrell is starved, beaten and interrogated on what eventually emerges as a training exercise. The film shies away from confirming that he is also submitted to electric shock torture: it may be a dream or reality. Ultimately the screenwriters' nerves failed: whilst subjecting the CIA to constant critique, they cannot fully condemn it, and ends by rather weakly suggesting that it is more than the sum of its parts.
   Still, the film must be praised for its ambitious action sequences and intelligent screenplay, whilst the interplay of personalities and the intense, close-knit atmosphere of the training camp make it a pleasurable small-screen as well as big-screen experience.
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