Guest Movie Review: Jack Reacher
The sun will continue to rise. Stars will continue to shine. Dead rappers will continue releasing new tracks. And Tom Cruise will continue making action movies. Though the thirty-year vet has dabbled in seemingly every film style imaginable with both hits (A Few Good Men, Tropic Thunder) and misses (Valkyrie, Rock of Ages), he always returns to the action genre that made his career. And why not? It’s easy to forget that there are action movies not done by Michael Bay, until you watch something like last year’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and are reminded how good they can actually be. Even at 50 years of age, Cruise has the looks, charisma and talent to pull off the roles of men half his age, and that’s what made him the obvious choice to star as literary anti-hero Jack Reacher.
Based on the first book in Lee Child’s Reacher series One Shot, Jack Reacher starts off with a trained sniper firing into a crowded park, killing five innocent people. When an easy trail quickly leads investigators to veteran Army sniper James Barr, he only has one thing to say: “Get Jack Reacher”. That proves harder than expected; Reacher is a ghost; former Military Police, he now lives as a nomad, traveling around the country with a taste for fast cars and loose women. When he first arrives in town, he’s convinced Barr actually did the terrible deed. But as he sifts through the evidence, he begins to understand that Barr isn’t the man behind these crimes. When he starts asking the wrong questions, a shadowy group with an agenda all their own will do anything to silence Jack Reacher for good.
One of the major obstacles to getting this adaptation to the big screen had to be the casting of Reacher, and for the most part Cruise easily fits the bill. Sure, the hero in Child’s novels is supposed to be an imposing creature at 6’5”, and Cruise would have to sit on someone’s shoulders just to come close to that. But what Cruise lacks in sheer size, he makes up for with confidence and experience. Just as he did in Ghost Protocol, he controls the flow of scenes, commanding both his situation and his co-stars with ease. It’s obvious both Cruise and Reacher are at the top of their game, with the actor moving between fight scenes and snarky comments with ease. The only complaint I have about Cruise’s performance is that he’s almost too perfect. Unlike Mission Impossible’s Ethan Hunt, Jack has no obvious weaknesses or personality traits that his enemies can exploit (or, at least none in thismovie…). He’s an ass-kicking genius the likes of which you will never meet, and has no problem no matter how long the odds. The result is overpowered perfection, unbelievable in any way, and while Cruise uses his charm to easily draw the audience to him, there’s also no risk in his losing the fight, immediate or long-term. He’s constantly one step ahead of his enemies, and the subsequent lack of tension does the movie no favors.
Of course, as the film is at best a better-than-average thriller, that’s no major loss. Jack Reacher is easily the best adaptation of a literary thriller this year, but with One For the Money and Alex Cross being the only other major comparisons that really wasn’t that highly set a bar. Most surprising (and endearing) might be director Christopher McQuarrie’s generous use of humor to drive the story, most often using Reacher to put his fellow characters into their place. It’s a delicate balance, with the giggle-inducing dialogue evening out some very tense action sequences, dark themes and lots of (lots of) victimized women. McQuarrie hasn’t directed a motion picture in some time (2000’s Way of the Gun), but it’s obvious he uses the humor to mask the fact that his characters repeat the same information (as a career screenwriter, he also penned the screenplay) over and over again to hammer home points the audience got the first time around, and the logic that runs the movie is not as solid as we should be led to believe. Still, he does a good job moving from scene to scene, and the movie overall is solid work from a man who doesn’t usually work this closely to a film camera.
Cruise’s co-stars help a bit, though it would be difficult to live up to Ghost Protocol’s band of Tom Wilkinson, Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner. And as imperfect as her performance was, at least G.P. had one strong woman in Paula Patton. Jack Reacher still has a talented cast in Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog and Robert Duvall, but Rosamund Pike’s defense counselor gets more useless the further along we go, running the clichéd gauntlet of naïve idealism, daddy issues, unrequited romantic feelings, victimization and of course damsel in distress syndrome. The rest chew up the appropriate amount of scenery, though sadly none live up to the potential of past performances. Jenkins and Oyelowo, two of the more talented and underrated actors working in Hollywood today, give perfunctory performances but no more, while Herzog plays a dismally stereotypical villain. Only Duvall shines, having fun with the material that only he and Cruise (and the audience) seem to enjoy.
It’s easy to see why Tom Cruise regularly returns to the land of action flicks; it’s his comfort zone, and while he tends to wander all over the place in his other roles, he remains grounded and focused when appearing in movies like Jack Reacher. Sure, it’s nothing special; if anything, it’s probably one of Cruise’s lesser thrillers, thanks more to a sub-par screenplay than anything he did wrong. Still, having been witness to tons worse, I can at least recommend this as a fun romp worth a night out. It’s a popcorn movie, making no excuses for its inconsistencies and offering an open seat for a good time. Certainly those wishing to indulge their violent streaks will find a better option in this week’s Django Unchained, but in the meantime Jack Reacher is more than just a solid second option.
John C. Anderson is a freelance writer, film enthusiast and Foursquare Mayor living in Boston. He posts his regular movie reviews at Hello, Mr. Anderson. You know, just in case you were curious.