Spies Like Us
Al Pacino and Collin Farrell go undercover in The Recruit
Somewhere during his long and illustrious career, after The Godfather but before Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino became a parody himself. Once the king of larger-than-life yet vividly real characterizations, he now substitutes bravado for emotional truth.
These days, Pacino tends to only appear in movies that require him to offer sage advice to an invariably younger co-star. Like a flesh-and-blood Yoda for Hollywood upstarts, he tenders his bits of wisdom via strange, cryptic declarations, which he delivers in a bombastic, exaggerated, southern-esque drawl amid grunts, groans and periodic flashy displays of his former greatness.
True to form, Pacino is performing a parlor trick the first time we see him in The Recruit. “NOTHING…IS WHAT…IT SEEMS,” he yowls as he flamboyantly shreds a newspaper before magically reassembling the pieces. This bit of grandstanding serves as an introduction between his character, a grizzled CIA recruiter named Walter Burke, and James (Colin Farrell), the computer whiz he hopes to entice into joining the Agency.
Incredibly, the gambit works, and James heads off to The Farm, the CIA’s secret training camp. There, he learns the ins and outs of the whole spy game, from combat and weaponry to surveillance and interrogation. Meanwhile, amid a dizzying agenda of simulated raids and practice polygraph sessions, James falls for Layla (Bridget Moynahan), a tough-as-nails fellow trainee who’s always one step ahead of him.
Before long, James is selected for a top-secret investigation to root out a mole within the CIA headquarters. As his assignment delivers one twist after another, James is forced to rely on his own instincts as he learns just how much truth there is in the time-honored spy maxim, “trust nobody.”
Director Roger Donaldson clearly enjoys pulling the rug out from under viewers, as evidenced by the countless number of times he does it. With a double-agent or triple-cross at every turn, it’s never an easy task determining who’s a mole, a patsy or a stool pigeon (or possibly, all three at once).
Pacino’s compulsive showboating is perfectly offset by Farrell’s brilliantly understated performance. With his saucer-wide eyes and energetic eyebrows (which almost qualify as a character of their own), Farrell says more with a glance than Pacino does with a blustery, five-minute monologue. While it’s a shame Pacino has been reduced to little more than a clichéd supporting character, it’s nevertheless thrilling to watch Farrell – a true superstar in the making – as he handily steals the show from his much more experienced co-star.
A regular contributor to Gay City News, Michael Rucker also writes for In Touch Weekly and HX Magazine.
(Appeared in Gay City News)