Thursday, May 10, 2018

Reserved Seating Goes All Pacino: THE RECRUIT

by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
The review duo who aren’t going to let a mole get in the way of a sunny day working at the CIA.

Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.
Adam: This week, our Al Pacino series continues with 2003’s action-thriller The Recruit, directed by Roger Donaldson with a cast led by Pacino, then-rising star Colin Farrell and Bridget Moynahan. The Recruit tells the story of MIT whiz kid James Clayton, the bad boy genius who is not only a gifted hacker but also a campus bartender with an aversion to buttons. It’s not all fun and games for James. His dad disappeared mysteriously years ago and James suspects his father was a covert agent in the CIA. CIA recruiter Walter Burke sees James in action at a job fair and recruits the blue-chip star away from Dell (we’ll get to this later) and into a life of espionage -- but not before James is put through the ringer (it doesn’t look very challenging) at “The Farm,” a CIA training facility for new recruits. While at The Farm, James meets Zack (Gabriel Macht) and Layla (Bridget Moynahan) and the recruitment shenanigans begin with some of the goofiest training sequences you could imagine, such as "pick up a woman at the local bar who intends to sleep with you." James and Layla hit it off -- they are too attractive not to -- but then school’s out and they’re both in entry-level positions at the CIA. Oh yeah, and there’s a mole and a conspiracy and no one is who they seem which we’re reminded of in practically every scene. I bet the screenwriters realized they backed themselves into a corner naming the character Layla. Like the audience can’t relax until someone acknowledges “Like the song?” and gives Layla the opportunity to scoff at that, as if she’s heard it a thousand times already.

Is The Recruit good? Not really. Did I have a good time watching it? You bet your ass I did. Rob, you and I have been chatting about this movie over text and I’m sorry for that a little because I think it might deflate some of our comments here, but this is prime Two For The Money-esque goofy studio Pacino right here and I couldn’t wait to start talking about this movie with you. The most interesting aspect to me this time around was that I now really enjoy The Recruit even though I didn’t in its original release. I think some of that had to do with my 2003 resistance to rising star Colin Farrell (in ensuing years, I’ve become a big fan of his) but now I can see how much detail he brings between the lines of the script to a character like James Clayton. The Recruit is also a perfect example of how an entertaining movie can be made out of a silly script by the sheer will and professionalism of a talented director and capable actors. Plus, I’m in a big late ‘90s-early ‘00s nostalgia period right now. Combine all of that and I don’t know how I don’t already own The Recruit on multiple formats.
Rob: The Recruit is a Reserved Seating special, an Adam and Rob Movie of the highest order. Walter Burke is the Platonic conception of a great “mid-career Pacino” role, a grizzled and worldly ace tasked with acclimating a cocky upstart with the Rules of the Game (see The Devil’s Advocate, Scent of a Woman, etc.) while overcoming (or in some cases, succumbing to) his own personal demons. He stalks along the edges of the film, dropping in to give exposition with a burst of charisma and life, turning the Cocky Upstart’s world on its head once every fifteen minutes before completely stealing the show in the climactic moments. In short, The Recruit is why we write this column. Pacino is in a groove here, and director Roger Donaldson (Thirteen Days, Dante’s Peak) knows exactly how to use him. There are so many Pacinoisms we need to get into (“The most important thing you need to know is that you don’t know shit!” “Who knows? The shadow knows!”), but I’ll end my initial thoughts by pointing out how in love I am with the movie’s early '00s aesthetic: Post-grunge soundtrack! Dutch angles! Short lenses! Washed-out cinematography! Meaningless typing on keyboards! Colin Farrell’s American accent! Amazon has this Blu for $9! NINE DOLLARS! That’s a steal at twice the price.

Adam: OMG. I love movies where no one uses a mouse or scrolls and everything is solved by punching keys. Like, even when they turn on their laptop they are just punching keys. Let’s start at the beginning. I am immediately in love with this movie because Colin Farrell is late for the MIT job fair (rebel) but swoops in at the last minute to save the day with the recruiter from Dell by hacking all of the monitors at the job fair. I love the ADR of the guy who shouts you “Who is this guy?” when Farrell shows up on every monitor instead of freaking out about his system being hacked. First, he needs to know WHO THIS GUY IS!!! Pacino is just watching technology in the shadows, and that factors in later because he’ll need technology later to carry out a plan I will sidestep to avoid spoilers. We talked about this already, but I was so baffled why the top student at MIT (which Farrell is said to be) would need to be at a job fair. And why would he ever work for Dell? And why would Dell need Farrell’s hacker tech at that stage in the company’s history? All of that aside, I love these early sequences where an older person blows sunshine up the ass of a younger person and recruits them for something. Just once I want to be recruited by someone. I’ve always had to work for everything. It must feel nice to be recruited. I know I have to be careful, though. That’s how we lost Anakin.

Rob: I love it. Apparently, the CIA training program consists of recruitment, initiation, “Remember your training,” and then a series of trips to seafood restaurants and local bars to pick up coeds (more on that in a minute; we have to talk about Clayton’s boss at Langley).
Adam: I love how local this movie is. The CIA’s jurisdiction in The Recruit seems to only be Langley.

Rob: We’re avoiding spoilers here, but didn’t it seem strange to Clayton that he kept failing upward? Then again, I love the way The Recruit plays that “trust no one” spy stuff, especially between Clayton and Layla. I was genuinely invested in their cat and mouse game for that middle twenty minutes in which they actually play it. Then again, the sequence in which Clayton gets “revenge” on Layla for her deception during their opp (“the opp” being a phrase repeated over and over in The Recruit) has not aged well at all. He essentially forces her (in front of coworkers and management) to admit that she wants to fuck him. Where’s HR?

I also loved how often we’d cut to shots of Pacino sitting on a couch, eating potato chips and watching intimate exchanges between Layla and Clayton. I kept imagining an exaggerated series of cuts showing everyone watching everyone: Clayton watching Layla, Pacino watching Clayton, the audience watching Pacino, Gene Hackman watching us watching Pacino...until it loops all the way back around to Layla watching Clayton. Remember: Nothing is what is seems!

Speaking of Layla, what did you think of Bridget Moynahan?
Adam: I think Bridget Moynahan is engaging in the movie and she looks like all of the best turtleneck sweater in the woods copy blocks I’ve ever seen in a catalog. She makes me want to buy a cabin in Michigan with a firepit in the off chance she’ll stop by. I think she acquits herself well in the movie. You alluded to this earlier, but she and Farrell have a good chemistry and interplay, which is what counts the most for her performance here. Before we get back to being giggling children over some of the plot details, can I ask you if you understood the villain's plan? I could understand his motive but absolutely not why he did what he did in the way that he did it. For a mystery, The Recruit is a movie that very oddly seems to want you to not follow along too closely.

Rob: No, the plan doesn’t hang together in the slightest, but the film manages to get away with it by keeping Clayton’s character and motivations as clear as possible. We’re not giving too much away, but he has a moment of realization late in the film in which the plot’s convoluted nature actually becomes an important “aha moment” that clues him into how he’s going to proceed. For me, that was enough, even if the villain seemed to take the longest, most roundabout path toward their goal. Did they even need Clayton? The film justifies his involvement with some backstory, but there’s another character who might have been more effective. I love that we’re trying hard not to spoil this one because we genuinely want people to watch it.

Adam: You hit the nail on the head when you said it’s such a roundabout plan. I think Clayton is needed to function as an alibi (ooooh, spoilers how I avoid thee) but then again, it’s shit luck for the bad guy or girl that Clayton rules at everything he does.

Rob: And it leads to what is, for my money, Pacino’s best line in the movie.

Adam: You should see Two for the Money. There are two lines for your money in that one. There’s so much I want to dig into, but it would give away the resolution of the movie so I’ll sidestep to something else I loved in The Recruit. It’s when Colin Farrell has a data entry CIA job as a cover for being a non-official cover operative and we meet his supervisor, who is every IT middle manager I have ever met in my life. I’ve worked all but one year of my career in IT companies and this type of supervisor is dangerous because they are motivation killers. I just expected Farrell to tell Pacino “You know what? I don’t want to be a spy all that much anymore. On my team, we have Margarita Mondays, we hit on ‘03 Republican girls, I never get shot at, I get to go home at 5pm, no work on the weekends. Sweet gig!” Then the film would close with Spoon’s “The Underdog” playing as Farrell breaks the fourth wall and says “So I guess you could say it all worked out.” Do you want to get into our dream of turning The Recruit into a CIA academy sex comedy called The NOC and the NOC-Out, where Pacino is the bong-hitting instructor? Can’t you just see the end of trailer sting where they use the moment when Pacino is taking the lie detector test and he’s asked if he’s ever worn women’s clothing? Insert record scratch.
Rob: The NOC and the NOC-Out would play so well as an ‘80s sex comedy. Think of all the hijinks that could go down at the Blue Ridge Bar! You know the locals are constantly having to deal with CIA frat squads coming in and trying to pick them up anyway (The opp depends on it), so why not have some fun with it? Bring in all those Republican coeds, make Zack the heartthrob, Clayton the bad boy, hell, maybe give Pacino a will-they-won’t-they storyline with the owner? We could bring back Ellen Barkin to play her! You already came up with the perfect tagline: “Everything is a Test.” In the end, Pacino and Farrell have an argument about the younger man’s future: “You gonna forget the girl and focus on the test?” “No, Walter. The girl IS the test!” Sly smile from Layla. Credits. Money in the bank! You know the guys at '80s All Over would love it.

Adam: I love that show and I dig The Recruit. Funnily enough, I pictured The NOC and the NOC-Out in the same ilk as Out Cold, complete with Buckcherry and Puddle of Mudd on the soundtrack. What do you want to review next week?

Rob: I think it’s time for us to swing for the fences again. Let’s talk Rookie of the Year, starring one of your favorite actors playing for one of your favorite teams!

Adam: The best movie Daniel Stern ever directed. Until next time.

Rob: These seats are reserved.


  1. I'm happy you guys had fun with this. It's one of those films that I saw in the theater and, for whatever reason, I've seen like 6 or 7 times since. I think it's because it's one of flicks that I completely forget the action set pieces so I like revisiting because it's not fresh in my head. Fun movie. It's not as dumb as "Mindhunters" which is another terrible movie that I'm thoroughly entertained by.

    1. I've always meant to watch Mindhunters but never have.

  2. Great write-up guys - thanks for not spoiling it, because I really should see it. I lived in Toronto for a couple years in the early 2000s and one day we received a notice that a film called The Farm was going to be shooting on the street behind our house. It starred Al Pacino and some other guy I hadn't heard of. I went over one day to check it out hoping for some Pacino, but he wasn't around. But at one point, I was about 10 feet away from the handsomest man I had ever seen. Like, I'm pretty straight but I couldn't look away from this guy. In the scene they were shooting he seemed to be trying to covertly watch someone across the street with a decidedly not covert smoldering intensity. Of course I'm talking about Colin Farrell, the movie being shot would go on to be released as The Recruit and, like most movies that came out between 2000-2004, I didn't watch it. On your recommendation, I finally will soon!