The Recruit

2003, Movie, PG-13, 105 mins


Spare, sleek and coolly entertaining, even if there's less to this game of true lies than meets the eye. MIT computer cryptography genius James Clayton (Colin Farrell) is a hotshot with a future and a flaw. The mysterious death of James's father, a globe-trotting Shell Oil executive, left a gaping hole in his psyche that he tries to plug with manly signifiers like boxing, tattoos, two-fisted drinking and show-offy feats of technical prowess: James's senior programming project has corporate recruiters scrambling to sign him up. But beneath the bluster, James is a lost boy who's dangerously vulnerable to surrogate father figures like enigmatic Walter Burke (Al Pacino), who offers an alternative to the ranks of well-paid desk jocks in gray flannel suits. How about a career in espionage — especially since James is to the manor born. His late father was with the Company, or so Burke slyly implies — he's a grandmaster of tantalizing hints, pregnant pauses and last minute retreats into obfuscation. That's how we are, he says — you know, we spooks — whenever James calls him on weasel wording. James takes the bait and enters CIA boot camp, an isolated facility in Langley, Va., called "the farm," where Burke teaches recruits to lie, cheat and steal in the name of patriotism. Burke's mantra: "Nothing... nothing is what it seems." James aces one test after another, strikes extracurricular sparks with sultry spy-to-be Layla (Bridget Moynahan) and appears headed for a bright future in black ops. But surprise, surprise: Nothing is what it seems and James finds himself enmeshed in a high-stakes game of "who's zoomin' who?" Is lovely Layla really a sleeper agent out to steal a killer app that can freeze the world's computer networks? Did Burke really recruit Layla so the CIA could bust her handlers, and James for the sole purpose of siccing him on Layla? Since Pacino's post DEVIL'S ADVOCATE (1997) performances all carry a whiff of sulfur, his presence insures that such mephistophelean machinations seem more slickly plausible than they otherwise might. And Farrell is up to balancing Pacino's bluster. Sure he gives good glower, but he undermines it with a hint of unpredictable insecurity (and it's not just the moles that look plaintively like tattooed tears); even conventional material can be galvanized by well-matched performers battling for the spotlight. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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