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The Recruit
2003 - PG-13 - 115 Mins.
Director: Roger Donaldson
Producer: Gary Barber, Jeff Apple, Roger Birnbaum
Written By: Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer, Akiva Goldsman, Mitch Glazer
Starring: Al Pacino, Collin Farrell, Gabriel Macht, Bridget Moynahan, Mike Realba
Review by: John Ulmer
There is a term I use in cinema. It is called "Vizzini's Law." The sharpest of movie buffs will pick up on the obvious reference to Wallace Shawn's character in "The Princess Bride" (1987). I use Vizzini's Law when a film manipulates the audience into thinking things will either a) happen, or b) not happen. In "The Princess Bride," Shawn's character gives a speech to Cary Elwes' Westley, where he explains that Westley wants him to think poison is in a certain goblet of wine. "Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me!" His speech goes on. The point of it is that Vizzini must deduce what Westley wants him to think from the mess.

And I use this reference when a film does the same as Westley. It pulls the audience's leg so many times, the audience loses count of which one is being pulled. They have to wonder what the filmmakers WANT us to think, then realize that the conclusion of the mess is the OPPOSITE of what they want us to think. Or is it?

Some films that use Vizzini's Law are ignorant and become irritable. But Roger Donaldson's "The Recruit" is far from boring, irritable, or ignorant. Sometimes the twists and turns are obvious, but most of the time they are more fun. It's not an especially wonderful thriller, but it's enjoyable, and will welcome a second-viewing to pick up on missed tidbits.

The film is about a mentor and his student. Al Pacino the mentor, Colin Farrell the student. Farrell is James Clayton, a computer whiz-kid who turns down an offer from Dell Computers to become a CIA agent with help from instructor Al Pacino. These set-up scenes move a bit too quickly at times to catch, but I suppose you just need to be able to pick up on certain things.

Clayton goes to "The Farm," a CIA training/recruiting facility that teaches the government's up-and-coming finest what to do. Like go into a bar and come back with women. Right. I doubt the CIA wastes taxpayers' money on such games. But it's fun to watch. As Pacino's character Walter Burke tells Clayton, "Trust no one. Nothing is what it seems." This applies to the scene I mention.

The film takes a lot of twists and turns, so many that it probably makes "Memento" look pale. But "Memento" had clever twists, and "The Recruit" has somewhat expected ones. It's not a particularly special film, there's no doubt about it. But it's a heckuva lot of fun to watch, even if its running time is a bit too long. (Only two hours? Felt like two and a half.)

I noticed that the film takes too long in scenes that don't matter, and speeds things up in scenes that do. Take the beginning and the end, for instance. The middle, though entertaining, is very slow-paced, and you can't expect to doze off during it. You might miss a twist.

Al Pacino is a real scene-stealer here, containing a lot of charisma. He uses a lot of recycled actions and cliched dialogue, but it's fun to watch Pacino take a light-hearted character. People criticized Pacino's (performance in) "S1m0ne." I embraced it. I embraced "The Recruit" even more. No one actor can be expected to come up with Oscar-winners every year, and Pacino knows it, plays to it, and has fun. His character is ruff, tough and gruff, and looks shaggy and unhygienic. He's looking a lot like Serpico with the beard.

Collin Farrell is a talented young actor, and I expect him to go pretty far. He's a lot better than some of the up-and-coming-now-they're-here-and-there's-nothing-you-can-do-about-it (cough-BEN AFFLECK-cough) actors. I enjoy him on screen, much more so than Affleck. Instead of playing the baddie Bullseye in Daredevil, perhaps he should have played the main character himself.

If you're looking for some sly espionage thrills, pick up "The Recruit." It plays like "Spy Games," "The Bourne Identity," and a Jack Ryan movie. Well, not really. But it's fun. And according to Vizzini's Law, it's a winner.

Movie Guru Rating
Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental.
  3.5 out of 5 stars

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