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The Recruit

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Hollywood responded to the Watergate scandal with a series of smart political thrillers–The Parallax View, The Conversation, and Three Days Of The Condor, among others–that brought leftist paranoia into the mainstream, tapping into the public's newfound distrust of government. Each film suggests that the government has severed its connection to the populace and become a rogue state, insidious and omnipresent, full of free-floating organizations that operate in secrecy and routinely trample on the rights of citizens. Nearly three decades later, these radical ideas are shrugged off as a given in the mechanical, empty-headed pulse-pounder The Recruit, which looks like a cousin to those '70s thrillers, only with the politics surgically removed. The film offers a guided tour of "The Farm," a training facility for future CIA operatives, where clean-cut recruits learn how to bug houses, bluff on lie-detector tests, and engage in illegal surveillance. The potential for abuse is practically taken for granted, yet journeyman director Roger Donaldson (No Way Out) treats the school like Top Gun for double-dealing spies, with first prize being an assignment that allows the winner to work alone in the field, anonymous and unaccountable to law. In this highly charged environment, idealistic young men and women are processed into Frankenstein monsters, but Donaldson merely sees it as grist for the mill, a ripe source of shootouts, car chases, and triple-reverse twists. A lazy Al Pacino, attempting to enunciate his character to life (see also: The Devil's Advocate), stars as a top CIA recruiter who zeroes in on Colin Farrell, an MIT computer wizard with the background, skills, and physique for the spy game. Teasing him with secrets about his long-lost father's past, Pacino lures Farrell into The Farm's training program, where he passes an extensive and rigorous series of tests, rising to the top of his class. After graduation, his burgeoning affair with fellow trainee Bridget Moynahan takes an ugly turn when he's assigned to track her for suspicion of being a mole. In a house infested with scoundrels, the crippling dysfunction within the CIA seems like a good place for a movie to start, but The Recruit accepts these conditions with a disturbing matter-of-factness, dancing around dark themes as if they were triggers in a minefield. Donaldson and his battery of screenwriters aim for nothing more than a coolly efficient thrill machine, but the mechanics break down in the end, foiled by a "whodunit" twist that's telegraphed early in the first reel. Careening forward without any real purpose, the film simply flies off the rails.