The Recruit Review

The Film

James Clayton (Colin Farrell) is one of the smartest students in his graduating class, writing software that has the likes of IBM and Dell drooling at the prospect of him working for them, but there are even more powerful people that want him in their employ. Clayton is approached by Walter Burke (Al Pacino), a senior CIA operative - it seems Uncle Sam is interested in Clayton’s skills as well - and the promise of the James Bond lifestyle tempts Clayton away from the big software paycheques and into The Farm. It’s the CIA training facility, where the best and the brightest of the Ivy-Leaguers go to learn all the latest spying techniques and be the new James Bond, if they have the strength of body and mind to make it through the training program.

Despite The Farm being one of the most difficult training programmes in the world it seems Robert wants to make things even more difficult for himself, as he is being somewhat distracted by one of his classmates, Layla (Bridget Moynahan)It seems he lacks the professional detachment with the ladies possessed by Mr. Bond, and if he can’t get his mind back on the job he’s in danger of washing out of The Farm entirely. However Burke has big plans for Clayton, and he assigns him to a top secret mission; there’s a mole in the CIA, and they’re trying to steal a state of the art computer virus that can bypass all known security protections. Clayton has to find the leak, find out how they are planning to get it out and who they’re working for, and of course, catch them in the act.

But Clayton’s world is filled with people trained in deception, naturally he has no idea who he can trust; especially when the mole may well be one of the class from The Farm, and even Burke seems to enjoy making his life difficult, forcing him to be the class guinea pig for all the most gruelling challenges – does he want Clayton to fail, or is he convinced that he will thrive under the pressure? And are all his oblique references to Clayton’s father – and his apparent business – an indication his father led a more interesting life than that of and oil company executive, or is he simply using it as a carrot to tempt Clayton further?

The Recruit is a film with a lot of problems, although it arrives with all the polish you’d expect, there hasn’t been enough time spent making the plot either intriguing or even sensible. The amazing new computer virus – Ice 9 – is so special because it infects computers through their electrical supply, thereby bypassing all the channels monitored by virus protection, though exactly how it’s supposed to actually affect the computer after it passes through the power lead isn’t ever explained, probably because it is totally implausible. If that were the only technological flight of fancy it could be tolerated, but either the screenwriters assume that their audience have all the computer understanding of my grandmother, or they actually do themselves, as they treat such technological marvels as USB ports as the kind of fantastic device only the most cunning of spies would be able to master.

It’s hard to see why Al Pacino got involved in the film, go back as little as five years and you’ll be hard pushed to find a film on his resume that wasn’t at the very least an engrossing performance if not a great film, but recently with the likes of this, Simone and (whisper it) Gigli, the Pacino name has stopped being a mark of quality. The script is pure cookie-cutter Hollywood, and whilst it carries all the polish you’d expect it lacks the fun of even third rate Jerry Bruckheimer productions like Bad Company. It takes itself far too seriously, which is made all the worse by the fact the audience is struggling to keep a straight face, and come the end, when the plot has finished all its ‘surprise’ twists you’ll find yourself not caring for anyone, and after half an hour finding it hard to recall the details of the plot.

It’s only the charisma of the leads that keeps the film watchable, Pacino has sparks of his old charm, and Farrell once again shows why breaking into Hollywood was so easy for him, although his performance may be sleepwalking, it’s still better than many lesser actors giving it their all. The Recruit just manages to avoid being awful, but falls far short of the excellence that can be achieved by either of the leads on their own, ending up another predictable, formulaic, unfulfilling Hollywood experience.

The Picture

Although The Recruit was screened theatrically in a 2.35:1 ratio it is presented here in anamorphic 1.85:1, though this is apparently the director’s preferred ratio. The picture is all you’d expect from a major studio release, being sharp and clean, with no problems with compression artefacts.

The Sound

The addition to this release of Italian, Spanish and Hungarian Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks means the DTS 5.1 track present on the R1 disc is lost, but it isn’t an awful disappointment as the soundtrack is somewhat uninspiring. The relatively few real action scenes will leave your speakers with little to do most of the time, and whilst both your surround speakers and sub will get some usage this is far from an involving track.

The Extras

Commentary from Director Roger Donaldson and Colin Farrell

Both the participants have sat down to record their first commentary track here, and while the pace lags somewhat in places it’s clear that Colin Farrell can tell a story or two, especially with a few margaritas inside him – as he has here. Tellingly admitting to signing on to the film because Al Pacino was in talks, despite the fact he didn’t think the script was fantastic, Farrell obviously ended up enjoying making the film, and has some great stories to tell – the highlight being how Al Pacino managed to wreck one of the cars during a cold nights filming. As the track goes on he has more stories to tell, doubtless the alcohol loosening him up, but Donaldson seems to either need prodding or pointing at some scripted questions to get talking, though he does also admit that he only signed on because Farrell and Pacino were attached, which makes you wonder exactly at what point Pacino really became interested.

Deleted Scenes with optional commentary

Four deleted scenes grace the disc – James serves drunk, Grab your balls, Cocktail party, and James brings beer to Zack - all are in the original 2.35:1 ratio and are non anamorphic. All are as exciting as they sound and are not missed from the film in the slightest, and whilst Donaldson talks about why he removed them he offers no reason why so many other similarly dreary scenes were left in the film.

Spy School: Inside the CIA training program

This feature sees CIA training officer Chase Brandon talks about how hard he worked with the filmmakers to make The Farm as realistic as possible. Apparently the CIA have never confirmed whether or not any real farms exist, considering this information that should be kept secret, but Brandon here seems happy to be the first man to confirm their existence. It’s interesting to see the training techniques used in the film are accurate, and there is some nice footage of both the actors training and real CIA trainees – with their faces obscured of course – but this does start to come off more like a recruitment video for the CIA.


The film is a disappointment, being very much by-the-numbers with little to surprise you and plenty to annoy anyone with even a passing knowledge of computers. The disc isn’t the most impressive you’ll have seen, but the commentary track at least is entertaining – in places far more so than the film itself – and naturally the sound and picture quality are nothing to complain about, even if they fall short of spectacular.

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