2003, PG-13, 105 min. Directed by Roger Donaldson. Starring Al Pacino, Colin Farrell, Bridget Moynahan, Gabriel Macht, Mike Realba.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 31, 2003
The pleasure of watching two alpha males – Al Pacino and Colin Farrell – circling each other mano a mano substantially beefs up this otherwise routine spy thriller. The electricity they incite – along with no-slouch-herself co-star Bridget Moynahan – goes a long way toward making this celluloid CIA operation a fairly fun ride for the viewer. These three bring a sense of conviction and gusto to characters that are written (by Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer, and Mitch Glazer) as little more than mechanical chess pieces to be moved to and fro across this standard-issue spook opera. It’s stuff we’ve seen done before and better – the wizened older pro and the raw recruit – but where else might you see Pacino striding across the film’s climax while extracting a big shard of broken glass from his forehead or new-hunk-on-the-block Farrell being doused with water prior to his big torture scene so that his pecs have that extra bulge and glisten that only a wet T-shirt can deliver? The film also tosses some "young man looking for a father figure" refrains into the mix, although it’s played at a one-note depth and only yanked out from time to time to give an extra prod to the drama. The Recruit overplays its theme of nothing being what it seems, reminding us of this caveat with such frequency that every time the film pulls out the rug from under its characters (which is often), it hardly comes as any surprise to the viewers. "Disguise, surveil, and detect," cautions CIA training instructor Walter Barnes (Pacino) with monotonous regularity. It should come as little surprise that the burgeoning love affair between new trainees James (Farrell) and Layla (Moynahan) will be severely compromised and infected by the atmosphere of deceit and suspicion that surrounds them. Each of them is bugging the other with secret wires. The first half of the movie will probably be of greater interest to audiences than the latter. There we observe the training regimen at the Langley hideaway called the Farm before the movie devolves into its Spy vs. Spy mechanics. Director Donaldson has a certain affinity for these government cloak-and-daggers, having previously helmed last year’s Thirteen Days and the excellent 1987 thriller No Way Out. And cinematographer Stuart Drybaugh contributes a great deal to the film’s sense of reality with the its fluorescent interiors and CIA hallways. (Austin audiences may receive an extra jolt of fun as MIT grad James is also actively recruited by an eager Dell headhunter.) The Recruit is ultimately passable entertainment, but don’t forget the popcorn.