(movie review written January, 2003)
"The Recruit" is an enjoyable film that differed from my expectations. A plot-driven thriller whose tension is created by its situations rather than action scenes, the picture comes off as somewhat of a more subdued cross between "Spy Game" and "The Net". Directed by reliable Roger Donaldson and starring both Colin Farrell and Al Pacino, the film may lack some believability and twist one too many times, but it certainly did hold my attention throughout.
Farrell stars as James Clayton, an MIT Grad who doesn't have the right attitude, but does have the right intelligence, demonstrated in a fun opening scene where Clayton demonstrates a new computer program. This catches the eye of Walter Burke (Al Pacino), who pitches James the idea of working for the CIA as an operative.
However, things don't happen just like that. James finds himself on a bus to "The Farm", the famed CIA training facility, where he'll be tested by Burke and others. Of course, there's also a love interest, Layla (Bridget Moynahan), but is she who she says she is? When James washes out after "failing" an assignment, Burke turns up with another: find out why one of the recruits has become an undercover operative for the other side, possibly funneling off valuable information, including a potentially powerful computer program.
While some of the twists in "The Recruit" are predictable, the film still has quite a few surprises up its sleeve, as some of the plot twists are very nicely crafted. The performances are also a reason why the film works as well as it does. Pacino takes a fairly slight role on paper and turns the character into one that's funny, mysterious and sinister, often all at once. This isn't Farrell's best performance, but he's excellent as Clayton, playing off Pacino perfectly. Bridget Moynahan, who hasn't really had a substancial role yet, is pretty good in a supporting role here - as with the others, she makes Layla into something more than the script probably suggested.
The movie is solid technically, as well. Stuart Dryburgh's cinematography is beautifully composed, moody and never really calls attention to itself in a "flashy" manner. Same goes for the editing - this is certainly not a "Bruckheimer"-ish picture with rapid-fire imagery; it's a fairly subtle and generally effective drama/thriller. Lastly, Klaus Badelt, who has certainly become a composer to look out for, adds a marvelous score, rich with tension. The score does a fine job propelling scenes and adding suspense, yet it never underlines scenes. It's another fine effort from a composer who's done several strong scores in the past couple of years.
"The Recruit" certainly wasn't without some concerns - a few twists that seemed absurd, some underdeveloped supporting characters and occasional patches of so-so dialogue. That aside, I still liked the movie. The performances were all above-average, the movie moved along at a rapid clip and I was entertained by the story and characters. Certainly, this is one of the bright spots so far in 2003.
VIDEO: "The Recruit" was shot in Super 35 and presented theatrically in 2.35:1. However, director Roger Donaldson made the decision to present the film in 1.78:1 for the DVD, which was disappointing. In a surprise move, the film is once again presented in 2.35:1 (1080p/VC-1) on this Blu-Ray edition. Unfortunately, the presentation is a little underwhelming. Sharpness and detail are just okay, as while the picture at least appeared crisp, fine detail seemed just average in some scenes and lackluster in others. Depth to the image is passable.
The presentation didn't suffer from any edge enhancement, but some minor noise was spotted, as were a few little specks on the print used. The film's muted color palette seemed accurately presented here. Overall, this transfer appeared slightly more detailed at times than the DVD, but overall, it's nothing to write home about and somewhat less than I expected for the film's high-def debut.
SOUND: "The Recruit" is presented in PCM 5.1 for the Blu-Ray edition. This is not an effects-heavy soundtrack, but it is still an enjoyable and effective one. Klaus Badelt's tense, subtle score effectively ups the tension while never becoming loud or overbearing. The score is mainly heard from the front speakers, but is also slightly reinforced by the rears. The DTS soundtrack adds a bit of depth and richness to the score. Although the surrounds aren't used intensely, they do kick in when appropriate - music and ambience are nicely heard from all around during a nightclub scene early on, for example. Dialogue remains crisp and clear throughout, as do music and sound effects - some sound effects are especially powerful. Not a stunning soundtrack, but it certainly gets the job done.
EXTRAS: The video supplements are not presented in HD. Commentary: This is a commentary from director Roger Donaldson and actor Colin Farrell. The two are a good mix for a commentary, with Donaldson providing a good deal of technical details about the production and Farrell providing the entertaining tidbits about what went on on-set as well as some witty jokes about what's going on in any scene. Both seem to be having fun and both really keep up a good, informative dialogue about the movie, only occasionally falling back into narrating the movie or sticking with praise. Definitely a fine track.
Deleted Scenes: 4 short deleted scenes are offered with commentary from director Roger Donaldson and actor Colin Farrell. The scenes are mildly interesting, but they're deleted largely for pacing, it seems. There's a cocktail party scene that's compelling, but seems to have been deleted to move the first half along.
Spy School: This 15-minute program details - as much as it can - the reality of CIA training, complete with interviews from the real CIA officer who served as the film's consultant. This is a very interesting featurette that, while not giving away lots of information, still gives a good idea of what the CIA experience is like.
Final Thoughts: "The Recruit" is an enjoyable and entertaining thriller that successfully creates suspense largely through twists and performances, only adding a few scenes of action for flavor. The Blu-Ray debut of the film falls mildly short of expectations, with picture quality that's okay and sound quality (on the PCM presentation) that sees some mild improvements. The fine extras from the DVD are carried over. Rent it.
The Film B+