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The Recruit isn't what it seems

Arthur J Pais | January 31, 2003 20:33 IST

Colin Farrell, an actor with unusual intensity and rawness, is one of the good reasons to watch The Recruit.

Top-lined by Al Pacino and directed by Roger Donaldson who, over 15 years ago, gave us a startlingly interesting spy drama called No Way Out, the new movie is gripping and great atmosphere for about 45 minutes.

But the last 30 minutes (the film is 105 minutes long) in particular are a letdown as the film gets bogged down in action scenes that look routine and less gripping than the preceding drama.A still from Recruit

The movie also gets boldly illogical and seems to fly in many directions in the second half. There are awkward moments of flag waving, which seem overtly calculated, making one wonder what Donaldson, an Australian, is trying to do with this film, and if those sentiments would have been in the movie if it had been made and released before 9/11.

Donaldson clearly does not want to make a James Bond movie, but in the last 30 minutes, the film is in danger of becoming just that. In fact, it is a less thrilling and entertaining production than the terrific Bond films.

Farrell, who was last seen with Tom Cruise in the international hit Minority Report directed by Steven Spielberg, now plays James Clayton, a computer genius who wants more excitement than what a big firm can offer. Joining the CIA boot camp looks like a terrific idea to him.

His mentor Walter Burke (Pacino), who has recruited James from the MIT campus, is his senior by over three decades. Burke prepares James and other recruits for all kinds of dangers. Some of the lessons, like the art of disguise, look like standard stuff. Others, like having sex in the park without knowing much about the person, are not. There is also training, as expected, in the use of guns and explosives. And in deception and mind games.

Among some of the more arresting moments in the movie are the scenes of mind games directed by Burke whose mysterious nature is thoroughly intriguing in the beginning. Though he has grown cynical over the years, Burke is not left without feeling and shreds of integrity. He also has serious plans for James.

Though the training facility -- called The Farm in the movie -- seems glamorous and full of fun, James also has to wrestle with many demons. He gets to worry anew about his father, an oil company executive who has died in a plane explosion in Peru. The young man begins to hear hints that his father was a CIA operative.

Nothing is what it seems and trust no one, Burke continually declares. Soon, James is being nagged by self-doubt. Adding to his worries about his father and raft of related issues is Layla (Bridget Moynahan), with whom he has fallen in love.

Yet he does not know exactly who she is. Is she part of Burke's games? Is she a counterspy? Or is she a genuine CIA agent?

There are several gut-tightening sequences early on in the movie. You expect more surprises, soul searching, and denouement when James is ordered to unveil a mole. But the promise does not hold out.

The mentor-pupil relationship is nothing new, whether we are watching Training Day or Spy Game, what is interesting here is that we see it being enacted by two of the finest actors of their respective generations.

Though there are moments when Pacino overacts (mercifully, never as much as in his Oscar-winning role in Scent Of A Woman), he is marvellous for the most part. Yet his performance does not reach the level of his thoroughly mesmerising work in Insomnia, a medium-range 2002 hit. Now ferocious, now cynical, now patronising, now calculating, he gives the movie far more energy than its action-filled scenes.

His enthusiasm and commitment have rubbed off well; Farrell's best moments come in Pacino's company. Colin Farrell in Recruit

There is a fair amount of sexual and emotional chemistry between Moynahan and Farrell. One of the more promising of the younger Hollywood actresses, Moynahan brings plenty of intelligence and eroticism to her part.

The script in the last quarter lets her and other actors down by its silliness and unbelievable plot twists dealing with possible betrayals and counter betrayals. In failing to give more coherence to the script, Donaldson has ended up making an unevenly satisfying film that ranks below his two other gripping films, the White House drama about the Cuban missile crisis Thirteen Days and the Pentagon-themed thriller No Way Out.

As the new movie struggles to gain a grip in the last 30 minutes and becomes more and more predictable, you wonder what happened to its key premise: nothing is what it seems.



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