"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. Recommended.