Classic Intel: The Recruit - TV Review

'Pacino’s role as CIA recruiter and trainer Walter Burke is one which never once stretches the veteran actor, allowing him - apparently quite happily - to sleepwalk through pretty much the entire film.'

Considering Al Pacino is regularly cited as one of the finest cinema actors of all time, you have to go alarmingly far back through his filmography to find a genuinely impressive film from him in recent years. Nearly ten years have to be skipped over, rifling past worrying amounts of tosh (Jack & Jill, anyone? Thought not), before you come to Pacino’s Shylock in The Merchant Of Venice, and over a decade before hitting the actor’s last impressive turn in more familiar territory, playing Insomnia’s troubled, sleep-deprived Detective Will Dormer. It seems that, in the twilight years of his career, Pacino has allowed the dollar signs in his eyes to take over his judgement of which films he should make. It’s fairly certain that that’s what happened when he signed on for The Recruit anyway, a film which surely would have sunk with little trace without Pacino’s attachment.

Pacino’s role as CIA recruiter and trainer Walter Burke is one which never once stretches the veteran actor, allowing him - apparently quite happily - to sleepwalk through pretty much the entire film. It’s only towards the close of the final act that Pacino has to start doing what feels like a fairly lacklustre impersonation of himself some twenty-ish years ago, as if he’s rolling out the old angry-and-shouty routine without much care for whether it actually has any effect. Admittedly it does here and there (this is Pacino after all), but the vast majority of what the former Corleone gives us is forgettable and disappointing.

Opposite Pacino, Colin Farrell works hard to lift titular character James Clayton off the screen, but the script rarely gives him much to work with. Bridget Moynahan in support also can’t be faulted for effort, but she too fails to escape the weak and flimsy characterisation which wanders hither and thither at the whim of director Roger Donaldson.

Structurally things don’t get much better. The first half devotes an unnecessarily long time to the various training exercises Burke puts his recruits through, whilst pulling the rug out from under your feet more often than an industrial strength vacuum cleaner. Commencement of the second hour sees Donaldson suddenly remember he needs to tell a story, setting in motion the most engaging section of The Recruit as the director puts together some pleasingly tense thriller set pieces. However, due mainly to the previous ropey pacing issues, the climax inevitably attempts to pack in too much in one go, throwing twists and red herrings at the audience far too quickly to be digested, resulting in some serious cinematic heartburn. That none of them are thought through enough for things to genuinely make sense doesn't help.

Whilst there are certainly moments here where you feel like you’re watching a worthwhile thriller (or at least a film that could have been once upon a time), The Recruit ultimately has far too many problems to make it anything more than sub-par and forgettable. Pacino might be able to sit back and think of the money, but all you’ll be able to think about is all the great films he used to make.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.


  1. I remember quite enjoying it, but it was years ago and it hasn't made a lasting impression. Should rewatch it sometimes to see what I'd think of it now.

    1. There are certainly enjoyable moments in isolation, but taken as a whole the film is a mess.