By Matthew Wright Hollerbach
Daily Arts Writer
Obvious comparisons can be made between “The Recruit” and “Spy Game.” Both feature an acclaimed veteran actor paired with a young up-and-comer. Both show an experienced senior CIA agent mentoring a younger, detached, rugged and stunningly handsome recruit. And both attempt to portray a very realistic and believable CIA. In the end, however, “The Recruit” takes its own path. While not exceeding the success of its comparative associate, the film still manages to succeed in its own right.
James Clayton (Colin Farrell, “Minority Report”) is a young software engineer with a promising career ahead of him. Moonlighting as a bartender one evening, Clayton happens upon a customer who seems to know a little too much about him. After some chat, he is revealed as Walter Burke (Al Pacino), a CIA recruiter who is interested in Clayton’s physical and computer prowess. Clayton is initially not interested and rejects Burke, but Burke finds Clayton’s vulnerability: his father. Clayton had always known his father as an oil company rep who died tragically in a plane accident, but when Burke hints that his death may be CIA-related, Clayton grabs the opportunity to find out more.
After getting to “the farm,” the CIA’s training facility, Clayton begins to form a bond with another trainee, Layla (Bridget Moynahan, “The Sum of All Fears”). After intense training and rigorous testing, Clayton learns that his first mission is to use his relationship with Layla, who Burke claims is a double agent, to find her handlers. As Clayton gets closer to his target, he starts to feel increasingly uneasy about his assignment and uncovers strange facts that cause him to question the validity of his mission. This conflict twists and turns towards a surprise ending that is mostly unpredictable.
“The Recruit” is an example of modern Hollywood entertainment that does not cheapen itself with the conventions of popular 21st century filmmaking. Roger Donaldson’s directind is solid and he continues his upward climb after the critical success of “Thirteen Days.”
Farrell’s acting is superb as a confused kid whose inventiveness and emotion exudes through his expressions, and Pacino remains unparalleled in a rougher performance than audiences are accustomed to. Moynahan is also excellent as she skillfully manipulates Farrell through her unimbellished sexiness. Fast-paced action and constant twists add spunk to the technically sound film. There are no slow spots to speak of, and the romantic subplot skillfully avoids clich