Stefano Sollima, the Italian director of “Without Remorse,” starring Michael B. Jordan as Navy SEAL John Kelly, says he likes to “tell stories that are about real humans; not superheroes.” Sollima’s latest film, an adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel, finds the “Black Panther” star pursuing justice and unleashing hell in a high-octane spectacle that launches globally on Amazon Prime on April 30.
Realism has been Sollima’s signature since breaking out internationally with naturalistic Neapolitan mob TV series “Gomorrah,” followed by hyper-violent but humanistic “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” his first major studio feature, and cocaine-smuggling skein “ZeroZeroZero,” which tracks a shipment of drugs from multiple perspectives across three continents.
When Jordan’s then-producer Alana Mayo contacted Sollima about directing “Without Remorse,” he asked her to find out if “Michael B” was “ready to shoot a film in which all the action is actually done by him,” says the director. Because, he explains, “the way I work, it would be really hard to shoot with stuntmen.” Jordan, who is also a producer on the pic, “thought that was an interesting challenge” and did the bulk of the stunts himself.
Another challenge in bringing “Without Remorse” to screen was modernizing the original script, written a decade ago by Shawn Ryan (“The Shield”), and changing the 1970s Vietnam setting of Clancy’s 1993 novel. For that task, Sollima brought in screenwriters Taylor Sheridan, with whom he’d worked on “Soldado,” and Will Staples.
“What I love about Clancy’s novel is that it’s about war, but war is [just] the backdrop,” says Sollima. “It’s not so much war that’s important as much as the reasons for war.”
Clancy’s accuracy in recounting the inner workings of geopolitics and his descriptions of “operationally perfect” military procedures are what the director wanted to convey. “We kept the spirit of the book intact,” Sollima says. But while maintaining “the soul of the plot,” they made several notable changes.
“Without Remorse” is the origin story of John Clark, one of the most popular characters in Clancy’s Jack Ryan franchise who, in “Remorse,” is called John Kelly and subsequently changes his identity to John Clark.
In Sollima’s adaptation, after Russian soldiers kill Kelly’s family — including his pregnant wife — due to Kelly’s role in a secret operation against them in Syria — he goes on a mission seeking justice for their murders. While pursuing the assassins along with fellow SEAL Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith) and CIA agent Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell), Kelly begins to uncover an international conspiracy that threatens to spark a war between the U.S. and Russia.
To ensure authenticity, prior to the 14-week shoot, done mostly in Berlin’s Babelsberg Film Studio but also in Washington D.C., the actors attended a boot camp run by retired Marine Buck Doyle and staffed by a team of military veterans.
But there’s one key detail in “Without Remorse” that’s deliberately unrealistic.
Welcoming Sheridan’s suggestion — and departing from the book — Sollima and the “Without Remorse” team decided that Navy SEAL Commander Greer should be played by a woman, which isn’t the current state of affairs within the U.S. military.
“I thought it was something we should do, because it’s obvious that going forward this will happen, so we just brought ourselves a bit ahead of the curve,” says Sollima, who praises Turner-Smith for making her role as leader of a male SEAL team credible. Narratively, what’s most important is that Greer’s rapport with Kelly is purely platonic, the director explains. The team made sure to avoid any reason why she and John could connect in a way that went beyond “sharing a job and [the] military mindset that’s behind the job.”
“It’s [just] a military comradeship,” says Sollima. “[We wanted] to build a relationship that would eliminate from anyone’s mind the definition of gender.”