Reel Toronto: The Recruit
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Reel Toronto: The Recruit

Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.
“Don’t shoot—chewing scenery ain’t a capital crime. Hoo-ah!”
The Recruit goes to show that some good movies have been filmed in Toronto and some bad movies have been filmed here, but most of them are just meh.
By all rights, a film starring Al Pacino and Colin Farrell directed by No Way Out‘s Roger Donaldson should be pretty good. However, this CIA tale takes at least one turn too many in trying to confuse you with its “who is the good guy/who is the bad guy” mumbo-jumbo.

It’s in the Annex, it’s in Boston. What’s the dif?
Overall, The Recruit does a decent enough job mixing actual Washington, D.C. and Virginia locations with the stuff shot here that we have to applaud their effort.
Before Colin Farrell gets drafted as a spook, he’s just a humble MIT student. He also happens to live in the Alpha Delta Phi frat house on Prince Arthur Avenue.
The Tanenbaum Sculpture Atrium (1993–2007) did some shilling for Dell before going to the big atrium museum in the sky…
In the opening scene, Farrell is late for a job fair at Boston’s famed tech college, but the fair scene takes place in the AGO’s Tanenbaum Sculpture Atrium. Yeah, the same one that Frank Gehry destroyed in his reno, royally pissing off one of Toronto’s wealthiest, most philanthropic families as well as architect Barton Myers.
The fiction here is that we’re at a College Street bar and Colin Farrell is behind it and not at, or under it.
Soon, our young hotshot is bartending at Boston’s (ahem) famed Lava Lounge. Of course, it’s actually on College Street, but has since been lost to our condo boom. Nevertheless, we get the lovely exterior shot and the interior bits with Pacino’s late-career mugging.
Fascinatingly (to us), the Bartending School of Ontario helped teach Farrell the ropes, and they also worked with another young hotshot when Donaldson filmed Tom Cruise’s Cocktail here in 1986.
Apparently, it takes two gyms to create one pointless scene.
When Farrell isn’t tending bar or doing cool computer stuff, he works out his aggression boxing at a place that looks like Florida Jack’s from the inside and Epic Fitness from the outside.
Scary, faceless government buildings. Ontario: it’s yours to discover.
The CIA office where the recruits take their exams is actually the provincial Macdonald and Mowat Block offices at Bay and Wellesley Streets. The building has played bland offices in a kazillion films, among them David Cronenberg’s lonely office in Last Night.
When the young agent types begin their training, it’s at “The Farm,” which was also the film’s working title. Most of these rural scenes were shot at Sunnybrook Park, Morningside Park, and the Beare Road Landfill. Interior training scenes were shot at the Toronto Police’s Bick College.
It’s hard keeping track of what was filmed in DC and what was filmed here. Get it? Track? Nevermind…
A big chase scene through a series of train tunnels, allegedly under Washington’s Union Station, was actually shot at the TTC’s Downsview yard and VIA’s maintenance yard on Toronto Street.
Navy yard, distillery, gentrified arts district…it’s all good.
Of course, they could not resist shooting something at the Distillery District. In this case, it’s the entire finale, which ostensibly takes place at a Navy Yard. Pacino gets shot down by the cops right in front one of the district’s distinct red brick buildings with a green door. As this shot reveals, it’s actually Building #36, which happens to be the ol’ Smoke House.
We would be remiss if we talked about The Recruit without mentioning Colin Farrell’s exploits while filming. Not only did he hit just about every downtown bar (apparently Hemingway’s was a fave), but he also helped turn around the life of a homeless man. What a gent.