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Dustin Putman

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The Recruit (2003)
2 Stars

Directed by Roger Donaldson
Cast: Colin Farrell, Al Pacino, Bridget Moynahan, Gabriel Macht, Kenneth Mitchell, Eugene Lipinski
2003 – 115 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, sexuality, and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 1, 2003.

The initial thought of seeing a thriller about the CIA is not very tempting. It is a subject that, to most degrees, has been exhausted to the point of being strictly formulaic. Directed by Roger Donaldson, "The Recruit" is not exactly fresh, but its intense storyline and engaging characters gradually manage to enthrall you up until the clumsily orchestrated climax.

James Clayton (Colin Farrell) is an MIT graduate whose advanced computer skills have attracted a number of potential employers at a college job fair. One of these potentials is Walter Burke (Al Pacino), who believes James has what it takes to join the CIA. James, whose father died in the line of duty for the same company, willfully accepts. First, however, he is taken with his fellow recruits to "The Farm," a sort of CIA basic training program that Walter warns him, "is never what it seems." Following the program, James is hired as a "noc" (non-official cover operative) to wart out a supposed double agent, who happens to be fellow recruit he has fallen for, Layla (Bridget Moynahan).

For most of its running time, "The Recruit" is undeniably compelling, as the viewer follows James every step of the way through the tricky basic training and then onto a real mission where the evolving relationship between he and Layla is at stake. Because it is spelled out a number of times that nothing is at it seems at "The Farm," some of the plot twists screenwriters Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer, and Mitch Glazer have developed are instantly predictable. Others are less so, particularly in the second half, and the journey director Roger Donaldson takes us on is a fun one.

With that said, the finale is all wrong. Following a chase sequence through the desolate interiors of a train station that ratchets up a fair helping of tension, the disclosure of the real crooked character of the piece is a letdown. Through the overly talky and unconvincing writing, the film almost becomes a "Scream" knock-off, as the bad guy prattles on about his or her master plan while holding a loaded gun at the hero. It is all very cornball, although not such a tragic fatality that it cheapens the rest of what is an admittedly entertaining ride.

For the very first time, Colin Farrell (2002's "Minority Report") has been given an assured and worthwhile role that makes good on his current "it"-boy status. Farrell is an intense and dedicated actor who reminds one of a younger and less generically handsome Tom Cruise. As Walter Burke, who uses his powers of persuasion to convince James to join the CIA, Al Pacino is back in the type of part he could play in his sleep after his riveting performance in 2002's "Insomnia." And Bridget Moynahan (2002's "The Sum of All Fears"), whom I haven't been a huge fan of, is actually much better than expected as Layla. Moynahan has created a sympathetic character even as her very intentions are always in question, and she and Farrell have unforced chemistry together.

"The Recruit" isn't terribly original, and the final fifteen minutes of revelations are more likely to have you rolling your eyes than blown away, but its one novel idea—taking an insider's look at the CIA's training program—saves the picture from seeming like a simple retread of well-worn material. And this is undoubtedly the movie that once and for all introduces Colin Farrell as a star-in-the-making.
© 2003 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman