'Recruit' is a well-crafted suspense thriller Ñ sans a whole lot of suspense
For roughly the first hour, 'The Recruit' is an exceptionally entertaining film, following a talented computer geek with enormous eyebrows as he's recruited and trained by the CIA. It does what good movies do best Ñ pulls aside the curtain on a world we would otherwise never get to explore, letting us peek at something we've all been curious about at one time or another.
A hotshot tech nerd at MIT, James Clayton (Colin Farrell) is obsessed with the disappearance of his oil-exec father more than a decade before. He also has created a computer program called Spartacus, which can turn any computer, anywhere, into a transmission station to other computers in the vicinity. (Or something like that Ñ it's one of those plot devices that seem totally preposterous but might actually be possible, so one doesn't want to laugh too heartily, if you know what I mean.)
Clayton is approached by a CIA recruiter-trainer named Burke (Al Pacino), who lures Clayton into the program by hinting that Clayton's father may himself have been a spook. So it's off to CIA summer camp for training in the manly arts of spying, murder and surveillance. Clayton's extremely attractive fellow trainees include Zach (Casper Van Dien look-alike Gabriel Macht) and Layla (Famke Janssen look-alike Bridget Moynahan).
One of the prerequisites of the CIA, it would appear, is to be stunningly photogenic.
Whether crashing through windows or suffering intense torture at the hands of ruffians who may (or may not) be CIA trainers, Farrell manages his fairly unimaginative role with delicacy and precision. Essentially, he's the 'young guy' half of the 'grizzled mentor and young guy' pairing that's becoming something of a Pacino-movie clichŽ.
Farrell, however, is an extraordinary actor with a gift for underplaying his roles, somehow imbuing his characters with a complexity beyond what's written on the page. And, well, he has those eyebrows.
The second half of the film, unfortunately, devolves into a standard-issue suspense thriller. Frankly, if you've seen the ads Ñ or any Al Pacino movies in the last 10 years Ñ there's not much here in the way of surprises. Is Layla a traitor? Is Clayton still being tested? Is Pacino more evil than he seems?
You won't exactly be perched on the rim of your seat, but it's all briskly executed and entertaining. So what if you can see the outcome approaching from about 3 miles away?
Toward the end we're treated to the requisite unhinged, Pacino-chewing-the-scenery monologue, which must be some sort of contractual obligation at this point.
The actor also occasionally slips into a faux-Southern accent, sort of like when Hannibal Lecter was making fun of Clarice Starling, only with less obvious motivation. Pacino did this in 'Insomnia' as well, prompting critics to opine that it was part of a complex character study that Pacino had created for that role. Since he's still doing it, though, it must really just be some sort of bizarre affectation on his part.
'Nothing is what it seems' is the mantra repeated again and again (and again) by Pacino, and it would be nice if that were true. But 'The Recruit,' despite marvelous actors and slick direction, is exactly what it seems and offers exactly what you'll expect.