Vague Visages’ The Recruit review contains minor spoilers. Alexi Hawley’s Netflix series features Noah Centineo, Laura Haddock and Aarti Mann. Check out the VV home page for more TV reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
The Recruit caters to a millennial audience that grins away consequences for their actions. Alexi Hawley’s Netflix series stars Noah Centineo as Owen Hendricks, a 24-year-old CIA agent who works in The General Counsel’s office while living with his ex-girlfriend (!), Hannah (Fivel Stewart), and a gay friend named Terence (Daniel Quincy Annoh). The Recruit will undoubtedly top Netflix’s U.S. charts through Christmas, thanks to a playful tone and Laura Haddock’s wicked antihero performance as Max, but there’s not much character substance beyond the two leads.
Overall, The Recruit positions Centineo as a happy-go-lucky protagonist with an axe to grind. This is a character who never speaks the cliched line “I’m very good at what I do,” and yet it’s clear that he wants everyone to believe that. Like many Matt Damon characters, Owen always eats while charming both women and men; he speaks softly and wears a sly grin. Owen worries about professional threats while traveling the world, and yet his problems never seem to follow him home (where they might affect, you know, his roommates). Centineo’s protagonist is indeed an open-minded nice guy with liberal sensibilities, but can he see just one week into the future?
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The Recruit’s first eight episodes suggest that season 2 could have a wildly different tone, at least if Centineo’s lead transforms into a badass outcast, a la Chris Pratt’s James Reece in The Terminal List. In season 1, Owen investigates both his colleagues and the aforementioned Max — a double agent from Belarus with ties to the Russian mafia. She has a look and demeanor that’s comparable to several of Angelina Jolie’s action protagonists; a huge bonus given that Centineo is relatively inexperienced in the action genre. Max’s domineering personality clearly intimidates Owen, but it also turns him on — a paradox that pumps some humanity into the series, which is full of underdeveloped stock characters.
Netflix should consider a promotional campaign that highlights the strong sexual chemistry between Centineo’s Owen and Haddock’s Max. When these two share a scene, the screenwriters can get away with formulaic cliches. It works. And that’s because Owen and Max understand the game — they’re building to something, whether it’s a late-night hookup or a genuine friendship. If only the screenwriters prioritized character development for the supporting players.
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Elsewhere, The Recruit’s screenwriters do little with characters like Hannah and Terence, whom inexplicably don’t mind living with a 24-year-old who frequently travels overseas for work without understanding the big picture. Who are these roommate characters beyond the basics? I want to know. Their lives go mostly unexplored in The Recruit season 1. And that’s a shame because Stewart in one of the industry’s most fascinating up-and-coming actresses. I get the feeling that she’ll have a much larger role in future episodes, if Netflix greenlights them, perhaps as Owen’s trusted secret weapon.
The Recruit includes some impressive cinematic sequences, due to direction from Doug Liman (Swingers, The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow) in the first two episodes. Moving forward, the filmmakers need to expand the narrative and raise the stakes. Flesh out Terence’s character arc or remove him entirely. Inform the audience about Hannah’s motivations. Why would this woman live with Owen if she’s not tracking his movements? The tattoo, the ambition, the knowledge… Hannah is up to something (as evidenced by a climactic Prague sequence).
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Lastly, the story as a whole needs some extra care. I doubt that casual streamers will be impressed with episode titles like “”I.N.A.S.I.A.L.” or “W.T.F.I.O.H,” unless there’s a code to crack as the series progresses. As it stands, The Recruit season 1 feels like a holiday gift to loyal Centineo fans who frequently revisit To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018) and its sequels. Netflix streamers are more than familiar with the actor’s everyman appeal. Now show us something different in The Recruit season 2.
Netflix released The Recruit season 1 on December 16, 2022.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.
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