James Clayton (Colin Farrell, "Minority Report") is a free spirited, brilliant computer geek who's been recruited into the CIA by the mysterious Agent Burke (Al Pacino). Upon arrival at The Farm, the CIA training facility, Clayton meets his fellow recruits, and goes through a series of intense training exercises in order to learn the ins and outs of life as a covert government agent. Once released from The Farm, Clayton discovers that his first assignment is to spy on one of his fellow recruits (Bridget Moynahan, "The Sum Of All Fears"), who is suspected of treason, and also has a secret romantic involvement with Clayton.
"The Recruit" (IMDb listing) is a film of many faces. The first section of the picture details Clayton's journey through The Farm, and it's here that the picture is an overwhelming success. Director Roger Donaldson takes great delight in staging Clayton's training maneuvers, allowing the director to deliver many compelling, traditional CIA situations (being taken as a hostage, shooting range, surveillance) without the responsibility of building a narrative around them. The CIA presented in "The Recruit" is another gross misrepresentation of the agency (as learned in the Tom Clancy commentary track on "The Sum of All Fears" DVD), shown here with billion-dollar tech equipment and sophisticated training practices. However, if you just accept the heightened, James Bondian angle to the story, it's whip-smart fun.
The latter half of the film is where the seams unravel. As Clayton begins to investigate his lover's possibly illegal dealings, the paranoia factor jumps off the charts, and the picture degenerates into a standard thriller complete with car chases and nick-of-time incidents. Donaldson has had plenty of practice with the rogue agent genre ("No Way Out"), but his grip is slippery on the "The Recruit's" more conventional thriller set pieces. What was once taut and twisty soon becomes silly, overwritten and unenthusiastically directed. The writers attempt to give Clayton enough motivations for his sometimes outlandish actions, but it still remains an awkward affair. I wanted to see Clayton go deeper within The Farm and its sketchy politics, not run around mass transit stations with gun in hand trying to figure out who's telling the truth.
Even with the mid-movie switch in focus to dampen the power of the film, it's doesn't stop Donaldson from halting the film altogether with a protracted and convoluted ending. Feeling the need to cautiously spell out all of the picture's revelatory touches, the climax consists of one character taking 10 minutes to explain the events of the entire movie to another. While this does take the sting out the carefully laid espionage in the story, it also stops the film from achieving anything a satisfactory climax should include. Because of this, it's hard to even remember why "The Recruit" was such compelling entertainment up until this point. It was, though, and no careless attempts to spell out the narrative can take that away.
Filmfodder Grade: B