At first glance, James Clayton doesn't look like perfect material for the CIA. Agency veteran Walter Burke disagrees, and smooth-talks the computer whizz-kid into signing up for rigorous training. Just remember, though: in the CIA, 'Nothing is what it seems'.
Post 9/11, intelligence has become the world's first-line defence against terrorist attacks. The CIA's reputation was tarnished when those Al Qaeda planes slipped through the net and into the Twin Towers, prompting James Clayton - Colin Farrell's character in The Recruit - to refer to the Agency as 'old white men' who let the country down in its time of need.
Hence this rather sanitised advert for America's spooks. We're never really sure what jobs Clayton and his fellow trainees will carry out once they''e graduated, but it's something vague about keeping the world safe.
Donaldson's Agency is unrelated to the CIA as Oliver Stone might recognise it: you know, the one that destabilises foreign governments. It's left to Al Pacino to voice the film's political conscience: 'We believe in good and evil... We believe in right and wrong... Our cause is just.'
The result is a safely mainstream thriller that plays out in its own sealed world. The emphasis is on twists and turns as they happen, not on any global consequences should the movie's CIA mole succeed in getting his or her hands on a secret computer programme. As such, it's not up to the standards of Roger Donaldson's best work: less politically tense than Thirteen Days, less teasingly deceptive than No Way Out.
That said, it does bring together, in the shape of Pacino and Farrell, an exciting, potentially explosive, across-the-generations pairing. Donaldson taps into Pacino's confident screen charisma to make Burke an irresistibly seductive recruiter, while the unshaven, rumpled Farrell has enough budding star power to cover the transparencies in the plot.
It's their dynamic that holds it all together and keeps the audience hooked, although the surrogate father-son espionage bond was examined at a deeper, more complex level by Robert Redford and Brad Pitt in Spy Game. By the way, try not to laugh when the camera pans past a sign at CIA headquarters that reads, 'The George Bush Center For Intelligence'.
Unashamedly mainstream fare. Pacino coasts through the proceedings and, while Farrell is admittedly a compelling screen presence, his character simply isn't drawn sharply enough. It's an entertaining thriller with any politically sensitive rough edges smoothed away.