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The Recruit

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Recruit

Starring: Al Pacino, Colin Farrell
Director: Roger Donaldson
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 105 Minutes
Release Date: January 2003
Genres: Action, Suspense

*Also starring: Bridget Moynahan, Gabriel Macht, Karl Pruner

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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

This item is reported on CNN just four days before the opening of "The Recruit," putting Roger Donaldson's spy opera right into this week's headlines...

Ex-Airman's Death Penalty Spy Case Opens By JONATHAN D. SALANT

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) - The first spy trial in 50 years that could result in the death penalty opened Monday with prosecutors portraying a retired Air Force master sergeant as willing to sell out his country for a price and his lawyers saying he had nothing of value to offer.

Brian Patrick Regan is charged with offering classified information to Iraq, Libya and China. If convicted, Regan could become the first American executed for spying since Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953. The Rosenbergs were convicted of conspiring to steal U.S. atomic secrets for the former Soviet Union.

Seems we're back in the 1950s except that now that Pootie- Poot and President Bush are tete-a-tete, the guys with the big bucks trying to recruit American spooks are from the Middle East and (surprise) our Coca-Cola drinking buddies in Beijing as well. In Donaldson's thriller, written by Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer and Mitch Glazer, the CIA is back in fashion and, now that our president has authorized assassinations around the globe, applications are said to be hitting the roof. Nonetheless, bypassing all the bureaucratic paper from eager and patriotic college seniors, long-term CIA instructor Walter Burke (Al Pacino) is intent on recruiting a guy who he thinks has Central Intelligence in his blood. Fortunately for the women in the movie audience, that guy is about the most ruggedly handsome young actor in town, Colin Farrell, who plays M.I.T. top graduate James Clayton whose muscles match his mind and who per formula falls in love with a classmate named Layla (Bridget Moynahan). Is Layla the mole being sought by Burke? Is Zack, A Farsi-speaking white- bread fellow also in training?

This big mystery notwithstanding, the most fortuitous feature of this cloak-and-dagger tale is not the pursuit of the villain; not the obligatory car chase, not the one explosion that takes place on the set, but the look-see that Donaldson gives us into the making of a CIA operative on the training grounds known as The Farm. For those who think the Central Intelligence Agency has become a bunch of tired old men pecking away at their computers issuing data that look more like make-work than attempts to catch Osama, "The Recruit" sets us straight. It's a lot more fun.

Lest anyone in the audience not catch the tagline, Pacino's character repeats it several times: Nothing is what it seems. For example, blink and you may not catch the sign that appears near the entrance of the CIA building at Langley, "George Bush Center of Intelligence." Is the sign real or an example of Donaldson's sense of humor? The otherwise humor-challenged picture pits Walter Burke as a father figure to James Clayton, with Al Pacino's usual over-the-top performance directed toward a man who had lost his father in 1990 in a mysterious plane crash over Peru. Despite an offer by a major computer company that could see James making 200K in a matter of years, idol-worship of his dad, presumably a CIA man, motivates Clayton's taking the bait from Burke, joining that instructor's CIA training program, and jumping hoops to make the grade as a force for truth, justice and the American way. Falling for an intelligent classmate, Layla (Bridget Moynahan), he is shocked to hear from Burke that Layla is under suspicion for selling secrets to the enemy and assigned by Burke to the job of flushing out the evidence.

The first seventy-five minutes, though not edge-of-your-seat suspenseful, provide the audience with a look inside the top security building at Langley including some tests which may or may not be currently used. One involves a major step forward in lie detection wherein a machine magnifies the eye to search for signs of dilation which means that the testee is telling a big fib. Aside from that, James Bond toys are limited in a film that is better in demonstrating the hazards of CIA hazing than in presenting a believable or even clear outline of its concluding half hour.

Acting is tops, with the handsome, Irish-born Colin Farrell standing up quite well against the intimidating Al Pacino while Bridget Moynahan, who lacks Farrell's flat-out appeal, turning in a workmanlike performance. If anyone wonders how you're going to keep 'em down on the Farm when private industry pays six figures to the caliber of people in Central Intelligence, the pure excitement of basic training may in itself provide the answer if you have it in your blood.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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