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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Recruit

A spy story with a lot of twists

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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May 8, 2003 -- "The Recruit" is a spy thriller starring Al Pacino which has more twists in its plot than a sailor's knot. The tagline for the movie is "Nothing is what it seems," a phrase repeated like a mantra throughout the movie. The movie clearly challenges the viewer to untangle the mystery, and it is a tough knot to untangle.

The movie is, essentially, a con game, similar to movies like "Spy Game," "The Game," "House of Games" and "The Spanish Prisoner," but with more action and some romance. The con is needed in order to adequately test CIA recruits. If the recruit knows it is only a test, he reacts differently than he would in a real world situation. Some pretty elaborate cons are used to convince the recruits that the test isn't a test at all, but a real spy situation. Al Pacino ("Insomnia") stars as Walter Burke, a CIA recruiter, who approaches MIT grad James Clayton (played by Colin Farrell of "Daredevil"). Clayton, a computer whiz, would make a great spy, Burke says. Clayton, of course, could make a lot more money in the private sector, but is intrigued by the idea that his father may have been a CIA agent and Burke may have information about his father's death.

Clayton is recruited into the CIA spy training program. He is attracted to another trainee, Layla Moore (Bridget Moynahan ("The Sum of All Fears"). The two become involved romantically and also become involved in an intricate spy game. Is it real, or is it just another test? There is a whole lot of chasing on foot and in cars, shootings, sneaking, following and spying via bugs and computers. The paranoia of the secret world of the CIA gets a grip on everyone in the movie. The pervasive fear and suspicion of the situation is reminiscent of the mantra of the X Files: "Trust no one."

The plot is moderately believable up to a point, but after a few extra twists at the end it becomes unbelievable. For one thing, the CIA is a huge operation. It doesn't make sense to have a recruiter also doing the job of training and also ordering special CIA operations outside of the training school. It makes more sense to have specialists do each of those three jobs. The movie also would have us believe that security at the CIA is lax enough to allow the escape of a devastating computer virus out of the facility inside a magnetic storage device. Data storage devices should not be that difficult to detect. There are some other problems related to the virus itself and computer programs in general that I won't go into because it would spoil the story. Still, if one is willing to suspend one's disbelief, it is a pretty good yarn, and it should keep you guessing until the very end. The acting is very solid by the three lead actors, Pacino, Farrell and Moynahan. This helps sell the movie. Farrell and Moynahan, in particular, are excellent conveying the psychological problems involved in spy work. The directing, cinematography and editing are all excellent, by Roger Donaldson ("Thirteen Days"), Stuart Dryburgh ("Kate and Leopold") and David Rosenbloom ("Frequency"), respectively. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2003 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)