There are many examples in Hollywood of rehashing what was once successful and doing it again, with new packaging and marketing of course. Of course, this particular example follows one Colin Farrell, who seems to possess the superficial charm and good looks, but also a small streak of bad boy behavior that reminds many of James Dean. Dean appeared from out of nowhere to wild, adoring female fans, and unfortunately his starpower was extinguished far too soon. Many actors since have been introduced to the public, and all the while avoiding the nasty notion of a premature death with any luck. And like Dean, they have all seemed to work on a film with an established Hollywood giant; Dean worked with Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor in Giant, Steve McQueen appeared in The Great Escape with a plethora of talent. Heck, even Brad Pitt worked with Anthony Hopkins in Legends of the Fall. So now that Farrell is the latest and greatest in that same relative mold, now's his chance to work in the serious film alongside an established Hollywood pro, co-starring with Al Pacino in The Recruit.
Written by Roger Towne (The Natural), brother of noted screenwriter Robert, along with Kurt Wimmer (Ultraviolet) and Mitch Glazer (Scrooged), and directed by Roger Donaldson (Thirteen Days), Farrell plays James Clayton, a computer whiz at MIT who can have his choice of a whole host of private sector positions, especially after showing off a new computer technology he developed. He is most intrigued by the proposal of Walter Burke (Pacino), a recruiter with the CIA who not only provides James with the potential of opportunity, but also for personal closure, as Burke might have some answers to the disappearance of James' father when he was a boy. Burke is one of the faculty at the CIA training facility, called "The Farm." James meets Layla (Bridget Moynahan, Lord of War) and starts to develop feelings for her, but sometimes Layla views James as part of her mission, rather than a love interest of sorts. And that's not even the first of many perceived mindscrews that transpire during the film.
Among those ways of playing with perception is the amazing and adept way that Donaldson plays with the plot. Is it a post-9/11 thriller with a man who has to vanquish his perceived mentor? Is it to find a mole within the Agency, one that James trained and became friends with? Who knows? Well, certainly not the viewer, that's for sure. As Burke, Pacino doesn't really yell a whole lot, as opposed to a lot of other films where he's exhibited this behavior, but his character does disappear during the second act, and returns in the third to espouse some "grasshopper" type of philosophy from time to time, all the while steering James towards whatever direction he chooses. Farrell's portrayal of James is decent enough, and as Layla, Moynahan is, well, easy on the eyes, but I would have liked to see her do more kissing like this in Gray Matters, if you catch my drift. But overall, The Recruit is about a spy movie without any real spy, other than the one whose defense is convenience. There's a love story without any real love to speak of, and it's a story about a son looking for a vanished father, and abandoning the search halfway into the feature. Donaldson, who has helmed some great spy thrillers like No Way Out, should have known better, and perhaps through some old tricks into this old dog of storytelling. There was a scene in the film that was kind of ironic to me; an early scene shows Farrell being tortured before giving in and providing vital information to an enemy. I tried parsing out The Recruit over several days, and I still gave up the secret to my bosses. The secret was I thought I could tolerate Colin Farrell and Al Pacino together on one screen, and I flipped, sorry.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Touchstone presents The Recruit in 2.35:1 widescreen using the VC-1 codec. In the interest of full disclosure, this is the first disc I'm viewing with some new hardware, so I might be thrown a little bit, but the disc looks pretty good. Blacks are deep and provide a solid contrast to things, and many times the image looks multidimensional, even on the closer shots between characters. There was a shot when James was trying to get to Layla's computer when, in her office wing that was composed of white flooring, walls and ceiling, he's popping off of my television. However, and this is a common frustration for me when watching VC-1 encoded transfers, there's not the level of detail compared to other next-gen movies that use other codecs. Moynahan almost looks airbrushed in her tight shots sometimes, it looks that off. Otherwise this isn't a shabby presentation, but it could have looked better.
Touchstone gives us an Uncompressed 5.1 PCM soundtrack to enjoy, but The Recruit doesn't really do all that much with it. Dialogue sounds clear in the center channel, but most of the film's events are in the shadows and on the sly, so it can sound a little bit hushed at times. What moments of gunplay or action there are possess some subwoofer activity to give them an extra oomph. Things don't really pick up sonically until about halfway into the third act, where car chases and gunshots abound, with some smart use of surround activity, and the film actually shows off some music that could be called a score. While The Recruit sounds good in the last 20 minutes, what they did over the first 90 was a little bit bland and boring.
Donaldson and Farrell combine for a commentary on the film. I could have been mistaken when hearing it, but it almost sounded like Farrell was drinking Margaritas during the recording of the track. Either way, most of the time during the track, Farrell sounds like he's in one of three scenarios; he's either just had a drink, wants a drink, or is thinking about a drink really bad. It's kind of funny to hear, but there's not a lot of information you get from him, unless you want to count how many f-bombs he drops that wind up getting bleeped out. Along those same lines, Donaldson seems to almost want to squeeze in relevant or interesting production details near the end of the film, almost to make up to the listener. here's a simple math formula for you; take one "Kiwi" and one "Wic," throw them in a room together to watch a film, and it's going to be more fun than informational. After that, a look at the Farm, titled "Spy School" (15:58) is next, with interview footage from the film's technical advisor Chase Brandon. Brandon talks about the real life actualities for agents, while Donaldson and members of the crew discuss how interesting the material was for them. There's even some footage of training tapes from the CIA included, a surprising note considering how secretive those boys are. It's quite an interesting piece. Four deleted scenes (6:34) are next, and aside from a mock party sequence that brings a nice symmetry to a line Pacino says near the end of the film, the other sense are pretty boring. The Disney/Touchstone "Movie Showcase" highlights certain scenes that show off high definition video and audio optimally, while trailers for Wall-E, Step Up 2 The Streets and The Nightmare Before Christmas complete the disc.
Getting back to my earlier point, while Colin Farrell is in The Recruit with Academy Award-winner Al Pacino so that he can make another Giant, the result kind of winds up being The Devil's Own, with Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford, only in reverse, but with the same effect; you're left unfulfilled after two hours, and you wonder how it is the young kid managed to get his accent the way he did. If you're looking to double-dip, you certainly can, the technical qualities of the disc are good, but on its own, I'd maybe give it a rent before deciding.