The Recruit
Grade: B-
Year: 2003
Director: Roger Donaldson
Writer: Roger Towne
Genre: Mystery/Action
Rated: PG-13

“Nothing is what it seems,” says Al Pacino’s character so many times in “The Recruit,” that we actually believe everything is what it seems. Either that, or Roger Towne actually thought he was fooling someone when he wrote the screenplay.

I don’t remember the last time I had so much fun like I did while watching “The Recruit.” It’s a lively, fun, and entertaining cat-chase-mouse film that does a good job at keeping the audience focused. But it lacks suspense, twists and brains; the stuff that makes mystery movies a mystery. There is nothing about this movie to figure out. All you can do is wait until the end to see if you’re initial premonition is correct; most likely it will be. Even if you haven’t seen the trailer (which gives everything away), you’ll know how this movie ends by Pacino’s constant mantras: “Nothing is what it seems,” “Everything is a test” and “Trust no one.”

The movie stars Colin Farrell, as James Clayton, a smart MIT graduate preparing for a career at Dell Computers. He is tracked down by Walter Burke (Al Pacino), a top-level CIA agent wanting to recruit James into the agency. It is unclear why the computer genius chose to try out for the CIA. He didn’t agree right away, but when it became clear that Burke had information about his father, an employee at Shell who died in a helicopter crash, joining the CIA might be a way to find out more about the bizarre accident. Burke never tells Clayton much more than what I just told you, but he signs up anyway.

We now go to The Barn, a CIA training compound for new recruits located somewhere in the rural countryside. Wait until you see this facility, it’s everything that Hollywood could have asked for. There’s a torture chamber that really tortures you. It is designed to find out how much information recruits will divulge if captured by the enemy. While Clayton is in this chamber (unaware that this is another test) he is beaten, roughed up and fed slop at meal times. When he finally surrenders and reveals Burke’s name to the interrogator, the curtains rise, revealing Burke and the entire class watching their own reality show.

The Barn also has state-of-the-art lie detectors that promise 100% flaw-free test results. This machine is designed to find out if any of the recruits are dirty or possible double-agents. You’d think the judicial courts of America could benefit from the machine more than the CIA could, by using it to prosecute the terror suspects that slipped through the CIA’s fingers, but this is their exclusive toy. The Barn also has a ‘bombs and explosives range,’ where the recruits learn the many ways how to blow up cars. I wonder if any real CIA agents will watch this film ask themselves, where were all of these cool gadgets when I was in boot camp?

While in training, Clayton meets the attractive Layla Moore (Bridget Moynahan), one of the few female recruits. She is always wearing a different color shirt then the other females; I’m guessing this is director Roger Donaldson’s way of offering us some assistance, but thanks to the predictable plot, no help is needed.

It only takes a few hi’s and hellos before they fall in love. But Clayton eventually fails a test and is tossed from the training program. But his story doesn’t end here. Sure enough, when he failed the test that axed, he really passed it. Now he becomes Burke’s ‘noc,’ the highest ranking spy in the CIA. His mission is to find out who Layla really works for, as Clayton finds out that she is a mole.

James and Layla continue to see each other after he gets a pseudo-job in the same office where she works. Clayton gets emotionally close to her, but he never stops working on the assignment, and we of course think that Layla knows he’s on to her. This is what makes the movie enjoyable. How will the circumstances affect their relationship? This is the only thing we don’t already know and the only thing not spoiled in the trailer that seemingly appears before every movie this year.

The ending, however, is a complete mess. We find out who the bad guy(s) is/are (maybe Layla; maybe not), and we learn why he/she became a double-agent, even though it makes no sense when you think in retrospect. Why would the mole go through all of this when the easier approach is so obvious? The final scene involves a car chase followed by a foot pursuit in some dark alley, and then backup arrives to arrest to villain. But he/she doesn’t go quietly into the night. He/she delivers a long monologue while twenty agents have their guns sighted on his/her chest. But he/she continues to talk and we as the audience eventually lose all interest. It’s amazing how the backup agents were able to keep their laser-guided scopes on the enemy throughout the entire never-ending final speech.

But on a better note, the performances were good. You got to love Al Pacino, as in almost all his movies, he never stops the mind games. Farrell delivers as expected, and now that “Sex in the City” has finally called the quits, Bridget Moynahan has the chance to land more movie gigs.

Like I said earlier, “The Recruit” is generally fun to watch, but the plot crumbles, then again, it never really builds. We know the good guys from the bad guys from the very beginning, and the few attempts the movie makes to fool us aren’t that good. But all criticisms aside, “The Recruit” is enjoyable if you allow yourself to enjoy it. When you consider the other movies coming out this week, liking “The Recruit” shouldn’t be too difficult to do.

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