Over the years, the work of Tom Clancy has been adapted across many mediums, with tons of films and video games, as well as the ongoing popular Jack Ryan series on Prime Video. Joining this legacy is the latest Tom Clancy adaptation to hit streaming, Without Remorse directed by Stefano Sollima. The film follows John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan), a Navy SEAL who is sent on a covert mission to Russia after his wife is murdered, leading him to the greatest battle of his life.
Italian director Stefano Sollima, known for his work on Suburra and Sicario: Day of the Soldado, is the first to bring this action-packed drama to the big (or small) screen from its 1993 original novel of the same name. Michael B. Jordan is the third person to portray John Kelly on screen, though this is the first time the character is leading his own adaptation (and without Jack Ryan). We got the chance to speak to Sollima on bringing this novel to life, the legacy of the Clancy franchise, and the immersive stuntwork Michael B Jordon took on as John Kelly.
Tom Clancy’s work has been expanded across many mediums, from films, TV, and video games. What was your experience with this franchise prior to Without Remorse?
Stefano Sollima: I’ve read almost all the books, and I have watched all the movies based off [Clancy’s] books. I also tried to play the Rainbow Six video games, and not succeeding because I was playing with my kids who are much faster than me, and it was kind of a depressing moment (laughs). So I knew enough about the Tom Clancy universe before starting. I was surprised that they never made a movie on John Kelly, who is one of the most interesting characters in this universe.
What initially drew you to want to direct Without Remorse?
Stefano Sollima: I liked [John Kelly] as a character, and they’ve portrayed Jack Ryan many times. He’s a believer, he believes in the United States of America, he’s an analyst, he doesn’t like the action. I feel that John Kelly has a lot of nuances because he is a soldier, he’s the boot on the ground, he thinks a lot but he is more instinctive, and he does whatever is necessary to get the goal, no matter if he needs to be violent or brutal. I find him shadier as a character, and more interesting.
One of the reasons why I liked the idea of Without Remorse, in a more modern way, I feel that [Kelly’s] personal adventure in the book, and of course in the movie, is sort of like a pawn trying to fight against kings. He is a man who was betrayed by his own country and has lost everything he had, and now questions everything, even the society he’s living in. I felt this was pretty modern because we live in a society where we love to be safe, to be protected from everything; where you have people around you that are sharing in your vision, your ideas… but that’s not true in reality. We have to fight in order to live in a better world. I felt that this story itself, John Kelly’s search to become John Clark, was pretty modern.
What was your preparation for this film, once you knew you were going to direct it?
Stefano Sollima: I feel that the movie should be set up in the real world. So what I did first is study a lot. In this case, I tried to meet soldiers, speak with them. I tried to understand how they move, how they do tactics, how they speak, what they feel. Then I spoke with politicians, people who work in Washington [D.C] in the upper rooms where everything is decided. I had a lot of advisors for putting together the military aspects for everything.
I tried to then apply what I learned to the script, and in this case, I asked Michael B. Jordan to do all the stunts on his own, mainly because we wanted to create a different action experience, where you do so much with the character that you see how the action around him is changing through his eyes, creating a more intimate experience. Doing so, we had to prep the movie in a completely different way because we had to design all the action sequences moving around the notion that Michael B. and the rest of the cast were going to do their own stunts together. We decided to make the movie almost entirely practical, with a little help of the visual effects, but trying to shoot as much as was possibly real. It was gigantic work in advance before we started shooting.
This film is incredibly action-packed, with lots of high-stake spectacle. How did you work to differentiate the action scenes in this film from others in this genre?
Stefano Sollima: Personally, with action, I’m not attracted by it. I like when the action is telling you something about the character you’re telling the story of. We didn’t want to really differentiate, I felt it was really important to be psychologically accurate and to follow the arc of a human being. All the action you see in the movie has only one limit, and that it’s not a superhero kind of action, but it’s simply the action that can be possibly done by a human being pushed over his limits. Of course, I feel in this way it becomes different. We have seen many times, revenge movies where someone is angry and out to kill everybody, but in this case, it’s more of an emotional journey. Even when it’s gritty, full of action, and brutal, the character’s emotions are still at the center of the storytelling.
The character of John Kelly is a very complex one that we come to know over the course of Without Remorse. How did you try to expand his character from the moment you were chosen to direct?
Stefano Sollima: I insisted from the beginning to tell the story from his point of view. I insisted on having him be a hero in the beginning and more of a common soldier, skillful, super trained, but in the end, he is a normal guy. Of course, he’s special because he’s a special soldier, but as a human being he has a normal life – he has a wife and he’s awaiting a newborn baby – so I insisted to have him be a human being that you can relate with. I tried to avoid any exaggeration where you would want to create your own heroes. I was trying to be as realistic as possible. I felt it was more interesting that way.