The CIA is such a secretive organism that even when it honors its dead, it doesn’t acknowledge their existence. Roger Donaldson’s “The Recruit” is about the CIA and the nature of the beast that decides to work within its walls. But no matter how you feel about the agency (if you’re a foreigner, you probably think the CIA is synonymous with The Devil or, at the least, the Bogeyman), the film is a highly effective Head Trip movie doused in enough cloak and dagger to make your head spin.
The movie stars Colin Farrell as James Clayton, a bright MIT graduate who is recruited to join the CIA by veteran agent Walter Burke (Al Pacino). For the parental-deprived James, who grew up searching for a father that has been absent since 1990, Burke becomes a father figure of sorts. The first half of the movie details James’ trials and tribulations as he and fellow recruits, including the beautiful Layla Moore (Bridget Moynahan), endure the rigorous physical and mental challenge of The Farm, the CIA’s training facility.
It’s in its second half that “The Recruit” offers up its real storyline: after supposedly “washing out” of the CIA program, James is recruited by Burke to be the agency’s noc agent. Nocs are supersecret operatives without any official ties to the agency or the country, and thus their capture will no doubt end in their death. James’ first assignment is to infiltrate the life of Layla, who is now a full-fledged CIA agent, and discover what foreign agency she is betraying her country for. Or is she?
True to the CIA’s often-mentioned motto, “The Recruit” is brimming with head games, secret operations, and a complete lack of trust from the first minute onward. Just as the would-be agents realize early on in their training that nothing is what it seems, the movie maintains this constant level of distrust right up to the film’s final minutes. Was James’ father really a CIA noc agent who went missing? Is James really working for the CIA? Is Layla really a traitor? Is the gun James is using even real?
The screenplay of “The Recruit” is the real star. It’s the movie’s complex script and its many twists and turns that keep us perky and interested. Oh sure, Al Pacino (“Insomnia”) is his usual good self, and Colin Farrell definitely impresses me for the third straight film. (Among his impressive credits, I count “Tigerland”, “Phone Booth”, and now “The Recruit”; but not his cartoonish turn in “Daredevil” or his bland turn in “Hart’s War”.) And despite the screenplay’s many contrivances (the final minutes really asks the audience to swallow a lot), they can all be forgiven for having given us such a great ride.
With a movie that focuses so much on the tormented James and his handler Burke, it’s surprising that the film has any room for a love interest at all. Bridget Moynahan (“Serendipity”) is good as the potential traitor Layla Moore, but I would have liked to see more of Zack, played by Gabriel Macht. I last saw Macht in “Bad Company”, where he also played a CIA agent. I am telling you right now that Macht has the making of a leading man. Mark my words.
“The Recruit” is directed by Roger Donaldson (“Species”), who handles the personal situations between James and Layla, and the mentoring relationship between James and Burke, with equal effectiveness. The film is a fast-paced thriller from beginning to end, and it maintains its level of paranoia so well that it kept me guessing until the very end. Although I did predict the film’s Big Revelation and many of its twists and turns, it was still satisfying to see how Donaldson and crew finally pulled back the curtains.
Roger Donaldson (director) / Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer, Mitch Glazer (screenplay)
CAST: Al Pacino …. Walter Burke
Colin Farrell …. James Clayton
Bridget Moynahan …. Layla Moore
Gabriel Macht …. Zack
Mike Realba …. Ronnie