Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Al Pacino, Colin Farrell, Bridget Moynahan, Gabriel Macht
Director: Roger Donaldson
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, French Dolby Stereo
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.77:1
Studio: Disney/Touchstone
Features: See Review
Length: 115 Minutes
Release Date: May 27, 2003

“Would I have to kill anyone?”

“Would you like to?”

Film ***

I’ve come to realize that even if a movie about the CIA were released every week, they’d still be every as bit as intriguing and entertaining. The Recruit is another contemporary thriller with endless doses of mind blowing espionage that belongs with a long list of similarly themed films such as Spy Game, The Bourne Identity, and Mission: Impossible. Even if the movie isn’t a truthful interpretation of the Central Intelligence Agency, it does a good job of convincing you what goes on in training, as well as behind closed doors at CIA headquarters. If you find yourself watching this and wondering if this is what really goes on in the agency, remember one of the key lines in the movie, “Nothing is what it seems.”

Colin Farrell stars in perhaps his first big lead role, if you don’t count his debut in the little seen Tigerland from a few years back, as James Clayton, a computer whiz and MIT graduate who’s about to make a nice profitable deal off of “Spartacus”, the computer software he has developed. However, James has a chance encounter with Walter Burke (Al Pacino), who approaches him with a slightly more tempting offer; to become that of a CIA agent. At first, James resists, claiming he isn’t CIA material, but when Walter admits to having knowledge of the young man’s father, who died mysteriously when James was much younger, he signs on immediately.

The new recruit is then sent, along with a bus load of additional trainees to a training site known as The Farm, where Burke administers a series of very mind boggling training ops, some of them extraordinarily elaborate. James starts to slowly become attracted to female recruit Layla (Bridget Moynahan), even though his feelings seem to be tested in a most interesting way, which I’ll leave for you to see for yourself. After being put through some hellish training exercises, Walter selects James for the most highly elite position in the agency, the N.O.C. (non-official cover operative), who is given special assignments, mostly dealing with discovering moles in the agency.

When handed his first assignment, James is hesitant to go through with it. The reason is for the fact that Layla may very well be a double agent, as Burke informs him. Nonetheless, James proceeds and goes undercover by posing as a computer programmer in the CIA office where Layla works. It is then that the two start to really fall for each other, and complications ensue very much.

The strongest parts in The Recruit are easily in the first half. The scenes at The Farm, including many physical and psychologically elaborate training exercises really get you intrigued to the point where you can’t wait for what happens next. What keeps the movie from being a total success is a very unnecessary plot revelation at the end that simply, for me at least, bordered on unsatisfactory. Normally, endings can make or break a thriller, and in the case of The Recruit, I wished the final moments could have been changed, but it doesn’t take away from the entertainment value of what has preceded it.

Directed with flare by Roger Donaldson (Thirteen Days, No Way Out) and featuring dynamite performances from Pacino and Farrell, The Recruit is a much entertaining thriller that, despite the let down of a tacked-on closing, remains a power-packed thriller nonetheless.

Video ***

I never saw the movie in its theatrical run, but was informed by a friend and several reviews that it was presented in the 2.35:1 format, so the notion that it is being released in a 1.77:1 presentation is an issue I’m still scratching my head over. Even the back of the box says it allows you to see more than in theaters. While I’m a firm believer in keeping a film in its regular ratio, this does manage to be a nice looking transfer from Disney. Even at this reduced ratio, the anamorphic picture doesn’t show any signs of panning or scanning, and the overall image remains clear and crisp to the max.

Audio ****

The THX-certified 5.1 audio mix (a DTS track is also included) is a very strong one, indeed. Action thrillers almost always get a very good treatment in the format, and The Recruit is no exception. Providing very good dynamic range, music performance, and dialogue delivery, in addition to adding nice jolts to certain moments of suspense, Disney has once again done a marvelous job in this department.

Features ***

Offered on this disc are the essentials, but good ones nonetheless, including a commentary track by Roger Donaldson and Colin Farrell, deleted scenes with optional commentary, and a documentary titled “Spy School: Inside the CIA Training Program.”


While the ending, as I’ve mentioned, might not completely satisfy, I still find The Recruit to be a skillful espionage thriller, with solid performances from the two dynamite leads.