EXCLUSIVE: Paramount Pictures has confirmed to me that it is near a deal with Christopher McQuarrie to adapt Tom Clancy’s 1993 novel Without Remorse, with an eye toward directing the film. I’d revealed last week that this was looking real and that Paramount wanted to stay in the McQuarrie business after the job he did adapting and directing Lee Child’s Jack Reacher with Tom Cruise, which the studio co-financed with Skydance. Paramount has high hopes that McQuarrie and Cruise have launched a new tough guy franchise with the Reacher bestsellers, and there is certainly that possibility in Without Remorse. But though the book first–a spinoff to Clancy’s Jack Ryan series–sold to Savoy Pictures back in 1993 for $2.5 million, it has proven to be a very difficult book to adapt, even though its protagonist was the basis for the operative Clark played memorably by Willem Dafoe in Clear and Present Danger. Paramount tried a couple of times to get it going, but the problem has been an incredibly bleak and violent storyline that McQuarrie will have to find a way to brighten if this is going to work. That effort has already been well underway through script work done by Shawn Ryan, creator of the seminal FX crime drama The Shield. Skydance, which is cofinancing the Jack Ryan series, is also partnered with Paramount on Without Remorse.
John Kelly (his real name before he was called Clark) is coming off a soul-shaking tragedy. Kelly’s pregnant wife has died in a traffic accident. Shell-shocked, Kelly finds his bearings after he picks up a young female hitchhiker, a prostitute on the run from brutal employers who were using her as a drug mule. He helps Pam off drugs and falls in love with her, and they try to bring down the drug lords who are exploiting other girls in similar fashion. Kelly screws up though, and it ends with him shot up and his girl kidnapped, gang-raped and murdered. And then–with a brief detour in which the former Vietnam vet leads an attempt to rescue 20 American pilots from a prison camp in North Vietnam in 1970 before they are fed to the Soviets–Kelly goes into full Man On Fire mode, systematically exterminating the entire gang and any pimp who ever crossed the dead woman’s path. Whereas Denzel Washington’s Creasy character found redemption at the end of his spasm of violence through the young kidnapped girl in Man On Fire, Kelly’s lifeline is mostly being recruited and offered a lifeline by Ryan’s CIA overboss Admiral Greer.
In this age of The Avengers, there are great character cross-pollination opportunities between the Clark and Ryan films, but McQuarrie’s job won’t be easy. The Ryan film has Chris Pine set with Ken Branagh directing and playing the villain, with an offer out to Kevin Costner to play Ryan’s main CIA liaison, a role that could certainly be carried over to the Without Remorse film if Costner accepts it. McQuarrie’s repped by CAA, Key Creatives and attorney David Fox. Below is a trailer for Jack Reacher: