Weak ending keeps ‘The Recruit’ from performing its job

Ted Pigeon

“Nothing is what it seems,” boasts Al Pacino’s character in the new spy movie, “The Recruit,” – a line that many people will be sick of hearing by the time the movie ends. Not only is this line uttered non-stop throughout the film, but it’s also used in the trailers that have been playing endlessly the past couple of weeks.

As an audience, we are supposed to feel the same way the characters do by not trusting anything that we see. Even though some of these deceptive strategies can make the film a bit predictable, “The Recruit” is a mostly taut thriller with an appreciation for the little things. And though the movie has the ability to leave a sour taste in your mouth due to its contrived ending, there are many aspects about the film that make it worth seeing.

Pacino plays CIA hotshot Walter Burke, a confident and fearless recruiter who is a self-proclaimed “scary judge of talent.” At the beginning of the film, he is in pursuit of a young computer whiz by the name of James Clayton, played by Colin Farrell.

Clayton graduated the top of his class at MIT and is serving drinks at a local bar, where Burke first encounters him and recruits him with relative ease despite James’ slightly carefree attitude regarding the proposition. Burke takes Clayton to “The Farm,” where he and a class of recruits are taught and trained. Shortly after training, Clayton is given the assignment of discovering the true identity of one of his fellow recruits, Layla, with whom he already has a relationship. The deeper he gets, the more dangerous it becomes.

The film’s highlights are the performances by the entire cast. Farrell, who has worked opposite of such actors as Bruce Willis (“Hart’s War”) and Tom Cruise (“Minority Report”), displays his unique talent once again with Al Panino. Farrell has perfect chemistry with him, making their scenes together always interesting. Pacino once again has put together another stellar performance and is a sheer joy to watch in this role.

The basic story of “The Recruit” is nothing special. But a film’s plot doesn’t always have to be innovative for the film to be good. In fact, many of the films pumped out by Hollywood each year don’t have a single original aspect to its story. So long as a filmmaker can creatively tell the story with style and freshness, then the movie works. And veteran director Roger Donaldson has done just that. His attention to detail is what gives this film life, from the performances to the set design.

The filmmakers behind the scenes have done an outstanding job with their contributions to the film, in particular director of photography Stuart Dryburgh, whose colorful lighting gives the film personality. Klaus Badelt’s modern, electronically driven score also adds to the unique atmosphere Donaldson has orchestrated.

However, no amount of creativity on the part of the filmmakers could overcome a script that reduces everything to convention by the end. What better way to disrupt an otherwise good film than by giving it a cliche-infested ending drained of any kind of originality. In the film’s final minutes, the plot twists are rampant and it seems that the screenwriters were trying really hard to surprise the audience. But since last minute surprises are the new fashion, a plot twist at the end of a movie these days isn’t really all that shocking. And if the audience simply follows the film’s tagline and realizes that nothing is what it seems, then the so-called “twist” can be easily figured out. On top of that, the final confrontation is as original as the plot twist that inspired it … which is not at all.

Up until the point in which everything seems to fall apart, this film is well done, tightly woven and very engaging. But in an attempt to shock audiences, the screenwriters have actually taken away from the movie. That doesn’t mean that the film was doomed. Fifteen minutes cannot ruin a movie, especially if the rest of it was good. “The Recruit” was certainly damaged by its ending, but it wasn’t destroyed by it. Despite the careless ending, “The Recruit” is (for the most part) a well-made movie that, although falls short of its potential, is still a good film.