Main cast: Al Pacino (Walter Burke), Colin Farrell (James Douglas Clayton), Bridget Moynahan (Layla Moore), and Gabriel Macht (Zack)
Director: Roger Donaldson
The Recruit is really entertaining in its first one and a half hour, and then everything goes down the drain.
This story concerns James Douglas Clayton, a brilliant computer whiz kid (aren’t they all in this type of movies?), who is recruited by CIA head honcho Walter Burke. Burke lures James in by dangling hints of Burke’s father (whom Burke has no real knowledge of) being a CIA himself and that Burke can tell James all about the father if James plays his cards right. James falls for a fellow trainee, Layla, only to be stumped when Burke assigns him to spy on and seduce her if necessary. See, Layla is a double agent… or is she?
“Nothing is what it seems” is repeated several times by several characters here, as if the movie doesn’t trust me to “get it”. I get it too well, so much so that I saw the surprise twist at the end coming a mile away. In fact, I wonder why James can’t see it. Throughout his training in the Farm – as they call the CIA training ground – he should know enough not to trust things at first sight. Then again, the movie’s biggest mistake is telling me what a good recruit James is but showing me instead scenes of James humiliating Layla publicly after she bested him in a routine training and James getting recruited as a “non-official cover operative” (NOC) apparently because he can stand getting beaten the crap out of the longest. James’s subsequent actions as a NOC brands him a hot-headed silly fool who can’t keep five minutes of deception without letting his emotions get in the way.
The best parts of this movie is the training in the Farm. Burke is a sadistic man, and many of the trials he puts his recruits through are mental equivalent of a few days in a concentration camp. He not only spies on his recruits, he also delights in destroying their idealism and naivete until they become jaded distrustful emotionless toys, just what he wants them to be. The Recruit, however, seems to fear the delightfully evil monster they have created in Burke, and plunges itself into a pedestrian, predictable, and limpid espionage soap opera that betrays everything it sets out to be. It ennobles the idiot that is James and punishes the genius that is Burke, not realizing – apparently – that Burke is everything that the CIA should stand for. Burke is the perfect spy. Heck, Burke makes a veiled condemnation on the way the CIA dealt with events before September 11. If anything, Burke should be the one getting the accolades.
By letting the buffoon becomes the hero, The Recruit embraces unthinking black-white idealism, making a mockery of more effective spy organizations while celebrating the CIA’s ineptness instead. How did a movie starts out one way and ends up the other? Maybe Burke’s “Nothing is what it seems” makes more sense than I expected.
Still, this movie is worth watching because Colin Farrell is really, really sizzling hot in this one. Shirtless, in shirt, in sweaters, in and out – yummy oh yummy.