The deceit required to wage war pales next to the lies required to be an undercover agent for the CIA.  Creating an entire culture of deceit, the CIA takes the idealistic patriotism of our young and endangers their souls by its training and demands.  When the entire system is based on lies, the question of whom one trusts becomes impossible to evaluate.  This truth is the theme of Roger Donaldson’s “The Recruit.”

      Walter Burke (Al Pacino) is a crusty old agent who has been given the responsibility to identify and recruit young people who would be good CIA operatives.  James Clayton (Colin Farrell) is a recent graduate of MIT whose brilliance is matched by his pain at having lost his father when he was only a child.   Implying that his father had been a CIA operative, Burke recruits Clayton for the business.  Explaining that it is “in his blood,” Burke uses Clayton’s pain to entice him into the training camp required to become an agent.   It is there that Clayton discovers the darkness of the secretive world he has entered.

      This is often the case with secrets and lies.  Hiding from the light in a labyrinth of justifications, secret operatives are both victimized by their inner demons as well as by the political and nationalistic forces they serve.   By the very nature of their task, they will become neither wealthy nor famous, and even their own children will not know who they really are.  This emptying of the soul can leave a vacuum that is dangerously vulnerable to a host of sins.

      Though we won’t spoil the intrigue of the film by explaining how this is true, the underlying themes are worthy of consideration.

      By its nature a secretive organization is dangerous.  If patriotism ceases to be enough of its own reward, then the work of espionage becomes destructive to the soul as well as to the body.  Though many expect that loyalty will be given to the country of one’s birth, there is nothing inherently motivating about serving a piece of land.  The motivation must be connected to family, and friends, loved ones and heritage.  But even this is inadequate motivation if divorce or disappointments overtake the individual.  It is then that the very secretive nature of the work creates the opportunity for a person to turn to a self-serving and self-destructive life.

      Another theme that is powerfully played out is that even when the secret is shared, love is undermined.  Clayton falls for a beautiful fellow operative named Layla Moore (Bridget Moynahan).  Matched by Burke for their looks and interests, it is natural for their attraction to be kindled into flame.  But what neither of them realizes is that those who matched them together will use their very love itself against them.  This creates a crumbling foundation on which to build any kind of trust or future.

      Though it may be argued that agencies such as the CIA are necessary for nations to survive in this broken world, we are indebted to “The Recruit” for demonstrating its destructive nature.  Draining life from its operatives, the result could be an agency of empty souls whose love and loyalty have long ago been extinguished.  We pray this isn’t so in the lives of those who began this work in order to serve their country.



  1. Realizing that deceit is necessary in order to wage war; do you believe it is also necessary to wage peace?  Is an established intelligence network necessary to fight the terrorist and rogue nations of our world? 
  2. If intelligence gathering requires undercover operatives to protect us, how do we help such people keep their integrity in a world that is often sold to the highest bidder?
  3. What would happen to a person of faith whose worship requires honesty? 
  4. When one’s father dies and the vacuum of their soul cries out, they are vulnerable to many who would use their loss against them.  What would fill their soul and protect them from such manipulation?
Posted on June 1, 2011 and filed under 2 STARS, DISTURBING.