Jack Reacher is a fun, action-packed movie that's a little too smart for its own good. But we're OK with that.
Considering the violent and mind-numbing December we've been forced to endure, it seemed like Tom Cruise's Jack Reacher could have become a victim of circumstance. The events of Sandy Hook have shocked us all, and the studios, ever worried about public opinion, actually considered postponing the film due to its violent opening. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed, resulting in a well-acted and solidly shot effort, even if some of the comedy is definitely out of place.
Based on the series of books by Lee Child, Jack Reacher is a detective thriller. Don't let some of the trailers suggest it's a yuck-fest: it's a little smart, a lot violent, and very disturbing in other places. Cruise plays the titular Reacher, an ex-military MP and sniper turned drifter who's entirely off the digital grid. He travels on Greyhounds, pays cash for everything, and doesn't even own a cell phone. When another sniper James Barr kills five on a sunny day outside Pittsburgh Pirates stadium, Reacher's name is uttered by the suspect as a sort of cry for help to prove his innocence. Already aware of the incident, Reacher arrives to prove his guilt - he and Barr go back, and that's not a good thing. Enter Barr's attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike, Die Another Day) who's determined to prove his innocence. As Reacher peels back the banana (or in this case the onion), he and Helen realize that dangerous forces are in play, led by the Serbian ex-con The Zec (Werner Herzog, Bad Lieutenant: PONO). But Jack is unfazed, even if he doesn't have the support of police detective Emerson (David Oyelowo, Lincoln) or the DA (Richard Jenkins, A Cabin in the Woods). As Zec's criminal underworld tracks Reacher and the police issue an arrest warrant resulting in a terrific car chase scene, Jack and Helen enlist the help of gun range owner Cash (Robert Duval, Apocalypse Now) to help root out the shooter's true identity.
Some fans of the books have decried the casting of Cruise, whose 5'2" stature seems ill-equipped to handle the 6'4" physique of the man in Child's novels. Get over it: Cruise handles physicality with ease, and his intensity comes across in every scene, thus making every brutal fight he's in that much more enjoyable. He's also an excellent dramatic actor, adept at turning that intensity into charm and intelligence one minute, and single-minded detective the next. Writer/Director Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) enlists the skills of Cinematographer Caleb Dechanel (The Patriot) to craft a finely-tuned machine of a film, whether it's a no-holds barred fight in the rain near film's end, or in creating fierce tension that makes you want to love him. McQuarrie gets the most grim attitude possible from Cruise who in turn makes everyone around him better. Pike, one of the least utilized female talents in Hollywood, benefits greatly from Cruise's appearance, which I hope is not lost on directors looking for an visually appealing and solid female lead for their future projects. Herzog is just plain creepy as the Serbian with literally nothing to lose, making his appearance all that more believable. Sadly, he and Cruise share only one scene, making us hope we see the two paired again in a future production. Cruise and Duval haven't appeared together since Days of Thunder, a fact which I hope both will endeavor to change. They have a special chemistry, almost as if the time between DOT and Reacher were months, not years. That pays off in several very good scenes that form essential building blocks in the second and third acts.
There's some things about Reacher that fall short, among them a baseball bat scene which seems neither relative to the story nor well-executed. I never read One Shot, but if this silly act was in the story, then it should have been left on the editing room floor. Comedy in the wake of action makes the comedy even better, as audiences can breathe a bit before the next tense scene. There's also a general sense that Cruise will get his man - as he always does - which is OK so long as the action and dialogue which gets us to that point is effective. Much of Reacher works in this regard, but it also felt like Cruise and McQuarrie left something on the table, like their effort was missing something. I didn't feel that way about Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, which hit every mark and only let you go when it was done with you. Maybe McQuarrie's MO was to leave open the possibility of a sequel, which I hope happens. But when you walk out of a conservation with a missed thought on the tip of your tongue, it nags at you until that itch is scratched. Jack Reacher nagged me in this way ever so slightly.
Some will claim that its beginning is too intense considering the events of this month. I flatly disagree - it's so key to the story that any alteration would have changed the tone, something it thrives upon to sell the sizzle. I heap large portions of credit upon Cruise and McQuarrie for not rushing post-haste to the editing room - not because of some ill-conceived notion of a cash-grab to lure in audiences - but because it was the right thing not to do. Reacher will far outlive Sandy Hook, which means its integrity as a motion picture must remain intact. Whether audiences react by staying away is for them to decide; but don't blame the director and actors for making something that just happened to mirror the dangerous times in which we live. And while cracks in the story are there, our film rises above things to entertain. Enjoy it as a matinee and you might even return to pay full price. Jack Reacher is rated R for violence and language and has a runtime of 130 minutes.
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