A brilliant college graduate is recruited by the CIA but must first survive The Farm, the Agency's treacherous training program, before he can enter into the wonderful world of spies.
The Recruit wants us to believe the film's main thrust revolves around the Central Intelligence Agency's old maxim ''nothing is what it seems.'' Had they stuck with this framework, perhaps the film would have been more compelling. Instead, it lapses into the expected and the implausible, where you can pretty much guess exactly what's going to happen, even if it really makes no sense. Our hapless protagonist, James Clayton (Colin Farrell) is hustled by CIA recruiter Walter Burke (Al Pacino), who believes himself to be a ''scary judge of talent'' and sees James as prime CIA meat. When James hesitantly accepts the offer to come to The Farm, he does so motivated less by helping his country and more by trying to find out what happened to his father, who died mysteriously several years before and whom Burke alleges he knew. Once at The Farm, James proves his mettle and is told again and again, ''it's in his blood.'' Ah, then should we believe James' father, who supposedly worked for Shell Oil, really worked for the CIA as an NOC, or Non-Official Cover agent, one of the Agency's more prestigious--and dangerous--positions? The plot thickens. James also falls for fellow recruit Layla (Bridget Moynahan), but, during an intense interrogation set-up, he makes a serious error trying to save her and ''washes out'' of the program. Just when he thinks he's out forever, James gets pulled back in by Burke, who tells him all his trials and tribulations were just a test and that he is really NOC material and needed to root out a mole. Is it what it seems? Heavens, no.
You'll be seeing a lot of Farrell in the coming months. Along with The Recruit, this year alone he'll be in three major feature films, including the upcoming comic-book actioner Daredevil; S.W.A.T., yet another feature based on a TV series; and the sniper movie Phone Booth. How has this 26-year-old Irish hunk risen so quickly in the ranks, you might ask? Maybe it's because he has an uncanny ability to make the parts he plays completely believable. He slips easily into the Clayton character, the quintessential CIA recruit with a daddy complex, and fuels the film with the right amount of acting skills and smoldering good looks. Unfortunately, his co-star, the high and mighty Mr. Pacino, is becoming a caricature of himself. Playing Burke is certainly no stretch for the actor, and the film would not be complete without the requisite ranting scene where CIA veteran Burke tells the world all about it--voice booming, words punctuated. It seems this has become the standard in any Pacino performance, and frankly, it's getting tiresome. Where's the quiet but powerful Michael Corleone when you need him? Moynahan (The Sum of All Fears) is somewhat bland as Clayton's love interest Layla. Word of advice: if Colin Farrell is making eyes at you, go for it immediately. Don't waste any time.
For all its obviousness, The Recruit does some things right. No stranger to the inner workings of our government agencies, director Roger Donaldson, who directed the Cuban Missile Crisis drama Thirteen Days and the Pentagon thriller No Way Out, gives us access to the CIA training program, or The Farm, as its lovingly referred to--and it's one scary place. Obviously, when making the film, things had to be handled delicately as not to divulge too much, so the film does take some creative liberties in showing the intense training the eager recruits have to face. That's fine with us--if we can't rely on death-defying stunts and car chases, then outrageous mind games are generally good enough. But once The Recruit takes leave of The Farm, the movie begins to fall apart. The inherent action set up for us in the first part--James finding out about his father, the blossoming relationship between Layla and James, who will be the NOC, and the whole mole plot--just isn't as convincing to carry the film through its fruition. And being able to guess the next move isn't much fun, either.
For a ringside seat at the secret CIA training process, The Recruit delivers a somewhat fascinating view. Yet, if not powered by Colin Farrell's strong performance, the predictable film would ultimately fall flat on its face.