James Clayton might not have the attitude of a typical recruit, but he is one of the smartest graduating seniors in the country--and he's just the person that Walter Burke wants in the Agency. James regards the CIA's mission as an intriguing alternative to an ordinary life, but before he becomes an Ops Officer, James has to survive The Farm, where the veteran Burke teaches him the ropes and rules of the game. James quickly rises through the ranks and falls for Layla, one of his fellow recruits. But just when James starts to question his role and decides to "wash out," Burke taps him for a special assignment to root out a mole. It soon becomes clear that at The Farm, the CIA's old maxims are true: "trust no one" and "nothing is at it seems."
The C.I.A. setting, the utterly predictable plot twists, the chase scenes and the climactic bout of gunplay may suggest a thriller, but really this slick and pointless exercise belongs to a more specialized genre: the Al Pacino crazy mentor picture. This time, Mr. Pacino is Walter Burke, whose job is to recruit and train intelligence operatives. "I have a scary eye for talent," he says. What Mr. Pacino displays is his peculiar, and often amusing, gift for ranting, spluttering and braying, and his wildly unpredictable, borderline-incoherent performance is the only interesting thing in the movie. Colin Farrell, as Burke's troubled protégé, James Clayton, an M.I.T. graduate student who seems to have misplaced his shaving kit in all the excitement, works very hard without producing anything like the casual, nutty intensity Mr. Pacino can summon so effortlessly. Bridget Moynahan is James's fellow trainee and love interest, who may or may not be a mole. — A. O. Scott
2003-01-31 | A. O. Scott | Read the New York Times Review of The Recruit