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'The Recruit'

'The Recruit' falls victim to CIA plot

Friday, January 31, 2003

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Ten minutes into "The Recruit," one character tells another not to believe anything he sees. Experienced moviegoers won't need this advice, given the kind of shameless hype Hollywood often bestows upon boundless drivel.

But as it relates to a specific movie, such a statement does put us on our guard. We begin looking for twists and turns, for alternate explanations of the events on screen. The good movies of this ilk find a way to surprise us anyhow. The common ones end up exactly where we realize they must be headed. The only people surprised are the characters, who should have known better because they were forewarned.



RATING: PG-13 for violence, sexuality and language.

STARRING: Al Pacino, Colin Farrell, Bridget Moynahan.

DIRECTOR: Roger Donaldson.

Critic's call:


Chalk up "The Recruit" with the common films, which is too bad because the first half of the movie holds the promise of something better, a character-driven drama driven by conflicts among raw CIA recruits whose training includes master manipulation by their instructors.

Colin Farrell portrays James Clayton, a computer genius on the verge of negotiating a lucrative deal with Dell when he is approached by a dude named Walter Burke (Al Pacino), who wants him to work for the CIA. The bait: Burke dangles vague insinuations that he knew Clayton's father, who apparently died in a South American plane crash in 1990. Clayton is obsessed with learning more about his dad's fate and seems to suspect he might have worked for The Agency.

But once Burke hooks his fish, he throws Clayton into the pool with the rest of the new recruits, many of whom will wash out. Clayton develops a manly interest in Layla Moore (Bridget Moynahan), a comely colleague who can speak Farsi. Burke turns the budding relationship into a teaching tool by maneuvering them into emotionally volatile situations, most of which involve deception.

"The Recruit" is at its best in these scenes, unfolding the personal stories in the context of a training procedural about rookie spies. The problems crop up after the characters leave the CIA training facility, known as The Farm, and begin their real work -- or what they think is their real work.

But that's precisely when we start smelling something phony, and the personal ends up giving way to the plot. The movie, like the characters, stops posing questions and starts following orders, losing both interest and credibility along the way.

Screenwriters Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer and Mitch Glazer might have quizzed each other more assiduously about character motivations, misdirection plays and potentially fascinating plot strands that are suggested but never developed. Not the least of these involves Clayton's bitter rejoinder to Burke that the CIA is a bunch of old white men who missed the boat when the chips were down -- a reference, one must assume, to 9/11.

Fitting Burke into that back story would have made the character as magnetic as the man who plays him. Pacino is as wily as Farrell is stolid, while Moynahan invests her character with more dimension than she really has.

If only director Roger Donaldson, who has made movies as good as "Thirteen Days" and as bad as "Cocktail," had been able to make us believe there was more to "The Recruit" than he ultimately delivers.

Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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