Film Review: Jack Reacher
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Production Studio: Skydance Studios
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog, Robert Duvall, Jai Courtney
For a while it seemed as though Tom Cruise had well-and-truly gone into a tailspin with his acting career in free fall and his social standing rocked through the breakdown of his marriage to Katie Holmes and with his continued zeal towards the Church of Scientology. When one considers the former of those problems you have to think back to the last ‘good’ movie Tom Cruise actually had (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Tropic Thunder notwithstanding). Alas the days of Top Gun, Mission Impossible, and The Last Samurai have come and gone: Put simply, many thought that at the age of 50 Tom Cruise had given all that he could.
However, here we have Jack Reacher, a movie starring yours truly which proves that Mr Cruise still has goods to deliver. Whilst Reacher is not an excellent movie by any stretch of the imagination it throws a number of narrative curveballs and features a protagonist interesting enough to warrant further expansion in the inevitable sequel. The story opens with an unknown assassin killing five seemingly innocent people at random from atop a parking lot with a high powered sniper rifle (In the aftermath of the Connecticut school shootings this was a pretty shocking opening to go with). Forensics arrive on the scene and track down a suspect, Andrew Barr, who is promptly taken into custody awaiting a trial which will surely result in the death penalty. Whilst in custody Barr, who profusely claims his innocence, is savagely beaten by other convicts and is put into a coma, but not before he makes one request to the authorities to “Find Jack Reacher”. Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) turns out to be a former Military Police Officer (MP) and all-around badass who has been living the life of a ghost (no credit cards, no bank accounts, nothing – you don’t find him unless he wants to be found) ever since he left the military and became a private investigator. Reacher is called in by Barr, who knows him through a shared military past, because he knows that Reacher will do his utmost to get to the truth. Is Barr innocent? If he is… who is the real assassin? Was there a method to the madness? The audience gets taken in tow behind Reacher as he works his way to the bottom of the case, leaving behind a trail of broken bodies and conspiracy.
What’s interesting to mention is that the character of Jack Reacher was first penned by British author Jim Grant, who goes by the pen name Lee Child, in 1997 with “Killing Floor”. Any audience member who was unaware of this would probably never even have guessed that this story and the characters involved are actually part of a book-to-film adaptation, admittedly I had no idea that this was such. Granted I have heard complaints from hardline fans of the books with regards not to the way Cruise portrays Reacher but with the way he simply does not resemble him. In the stories Reacher is apparently depicted as being just over 6ft tall and with a physique of a battle-hardened soldier, Cruise isn’t quite that but he certainly gets the character of Reacher down to an art. Whatever the movie in question directors will always have their right to wield an artistic license, especially when it comes to adaptations such as this. Let’s face it… Cruise not only knows how to do action movies but he also knows how to make them interesting and engaging, something many of today’s action stars cannot pull off.
Cruise portrays Reacher in a manner which kept reminding me of Benedict Cumberbatch’s interpretation of Sherlock Holmes… that is if Holmes was American, had served in the military, and had the fighting prowess of Mike Tyson. Reacher is able to dissect situations logically, spot things everyone else misses, and has an iron-cast sense of justice – In summary: He’s the guy every man wants to be and doesn’t want to be on the wrong side of. He’s thoroughly entertaining to watch on screen, so much in fact that any scene without him feels rather devoid of character. One of Reacher’s many memorable traits is that he prefers to use his mind and mouth before he engages his fists of fury, something which flies in the face of stereotypical action heroes (sorry Jason Statham, you’re soooooo guilty of this), and makes the character engaging on two fronts. Whilst the action segments of the story are thrilling and brutal to watch it’s the snappy dialogue between Reacher and his allies/opponents alike which puts meat on the bones of this movie.
You might notice that I spent an overly long time fawning over the main character because sadly he’s one of if not the only engaging character in the film, everyone else just comes across as walking props (Rosamund Pike’s role as leading lady being the notable example here). Whilst she undergoes her own side-story arc between herself and her estranged father (Robert Duvall) it ends up boiling down to a simple ‘Daddy Issues’ story and isn’t engaging in the slightest. The antagonists, as they crop up, are spectacularly forgettable and borderline implausible at times. Werner Herzog’s Russian mobster “The Zec” is revealed to have a background story on par with Peirce Brosnan era 007 villains and really doesn’t get a whole lot to do. His right hand man “Charlie” (Jai Courtney) provides some small sense of threat but when you consider that he is up against the epic badassery of Jack Reacher then you end up genuinely fearing for his life. Thankfully the saving grace of these characters comes about whenever they interact with Reacher who either ends up putting them in their place or outright ruining them.
Ultimately the pros far outweigh the cons and Jack Reacher proves to be a thrilling ride with nice portions of crisp action thrown in for good measure. Come to think of it… didn’t we have a movie come out in 2012 which promised the same thing but absolutely failed at it? What was it called again…? Oh right… The Bourne Legacy. Whilst it pains me to bring up that travesty again (it holds the unfortunate honor of being my lowest rated movie I have reviewed on this site, use the “Select Category” > “Film Reviews” feature to find it) I have to do so in order to not only make comparisons to show just how much better Reacher is but to put the problems facing the modern action genre into perspective. Where I felt Legacy failed was that the story and choreography tailspun into absurdity to the extent that I was holding back laughter towards the end. Sure, The Bourne Identity, Supremacy, and Ultimatum all suffered from varying degrees of this (the car chase near the end of Supremacy anyone?) but they managed to maintain at least some measure of reality which only emphasized the gritty nature of their respective stories. Jack Reacher on the other hand manages to deliver thrills even when it’s title character is not beating people within an inch of their lives, which it does by having an engaging and constantly developing plot which is easy to follow when you’re riding the curtails of Reacher’s genius. Tom Cruise has literally beaten the Bournes at their own game and has delivered a thriller cleverly disguised as an action movie.
Where does Jack Reacher go from here? We can only hope that this initial impetus will spurn more installments featuring a gracefully revived Tom Cruise.
Final Score: 8/10
+ Cruise is phenomenal as Jack Reacher, even when not fighting.
+ Intelligent story which keeps evolving and holding your interest.
+ Great action sequences which never get too over-the-top.
+ Shows immense promise for future installments.
– Supporting cast is forgettable.
– Slight dip in pace near the second act.