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Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher. Let me say that again: Tom Cruise plays Jack Reacher, the hero of novelist Lee Child’s series of action/adventure books. Now, if that statement offends you in anyway, then you should probably stop reading this review, because I have nothing but good things to say about Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher in … “Jack Reacher”. (Really, every movie should just be the name of the main character. It just sounds cooler. Imagine “Luke Skywalker”. Or, “Whiny Ass Anakin Skywalker” for the prequels. Etc.) The film is based on the novel “One Shot”, a standalone story (most of Child’s Reacher novels are standalone stories) that doesn’t require any prior knowledge of the character’s past adventures to enjoy.
“Jack Reacher” is adapted for the screen by Christopher McQuarrie, who hasn’t directed a film since 2000’s crime drama “Way of the Gun” (a criminally underrated movie that if you’ve never seen, I highly recommend you seek out right now). To hear him tell it, “Way of the Gun” did so poorly at the box office that McQuarrie hasn’t gotten the chance to direct another movie since. That changes with “Jack Reacher”, which finds Cruise playing a brilliant former military policeman who has become something of a ghost. Reacher has no address, no ties, and does as he pleases, whenever and however he pleases. Reacher is called back into service when a former military sniper from his past is accused of a shooting rampage that claimed multiple lives. That’s the charge, anyway. Reacher has no love for the accused, but nevertheless quickly comes to the conclusion that something else is going on, and makes it his mission to uncover the truth.
Reacher has help from the shooter’s lawyer, Helen (former Bond girl Rosamund Pike), swimming upstream against a mountain of evidence, and looking ridiculously good doing it. Pike is one of the film’s only two substantial female characters in this testosterone-charged cast (Alexia Fast plays the other one, whose character causes trouble for Reacher). Everything points to the accused’s guilt, and the District Attorney (Richard Jenkins) has an airtight case. (And oh yeah, the D.A. is also Helen’s father. Happy times at family gatherings!) David Oyelowo (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”) plays the Detective running the investigation who butts heads with Reacher. He doesn’t like some hotshot freelancer poking holes in his case. Reacher could care less.
Eventually, Reacher’s methodical investigation unearths the involvement of a Russian gangster known as The Zec, played by filmmaker Werner Herzog, taking a momentary break from directing to do a little acting. The Zec is parts menacing and parts campy, and all awesome as he slinks in and out of shadows throughout the film like some bogeyman. A former survivor of the Russian Gulag, The Zec’s “fingers” story is straight from the book, and his motivations for his crimes are shockingly … unspectacular. He also doesn’t like people nosing around his business, and sends people to dispatch of Reacher. Fortunately for our hero, breaking faces and cracking skulls is old hat. He’s not too bad at shooting, either, which comes in handy for the film’s Third Act showdown at a landfill … in the rain, of course.
Those who have read the Lee Child books will appreciate that writer/director Christopher McQuarrie and star Tom Cruise really do seem to “get” the character. The, uh, physical discrepancies between the book version of Jack Reacher and the cinematic translation notwithstanding, it’s easy to see that the two men put in charge of shaping “Jack Reacher” understands what makes the character tick. As a result, “Jack Reacher” looks and feels like a true Reacher book come to life — smart, blunt, surprisingly funny at times, and always engaging. There are sudden bursts of bone-jarring violence that McQuarrie shoots in a way that allows you to see the genesis of every strike, along with an excellent car chase sequence in the middle section, the oh-so-cool ending for which is shown prominently in the trailers. Non-readers of the book may gripe about the film’s lack of big-scale action sequences, but the Jack Reacher novels have never been about such things, so even that is true to the books.
“Jack Reacher” walks an interesting tight rope — it’s gritty and playful, adheres to action movie cliches but also breaks accepted tropes. As befitting a film about an old school tough guy, things get violent (though the PG-13 rating keeps the blood mostly in check), and calling it a “smart thriller” wouldn’t be a stretch, though it’s not a brain teaser by any means. Over the course of almost two dozen books, Lee Child has created what is essentially a perfect super soldier in Jack Reacher, and the film does a great job of showcasing just what a formidable opponent he can become when he sets his sights on a goal. Speaking of old school, Robert Duvall keeps things lively as a gun range operator who shows up in the film’s back end on Reacher’s side, while Jai Courtney (“Spartacus” and the upcoming “A Good Day to Die Hard”) makes for a deadly foil.
I’ve often been disappointed that McQuarrie hasn’t directed another movie since 2000’s “Way of the Gun”, his directorial debut after winning an Oscar for writing “The Usual Suspects”. McQuarrie has spent much of his time since as a script doctor, tinkering with other people’s movies, so “Jack Reacher” is his big chance to make an impression (again). He does a bang-up job of bringing Lee Child’s creation to life, and so does Cruise in the title role. As a big fan of the books, and someone who, like most of you, lifted an eyebrow or two at Cruise’s casting, I am completely won over. If the film performs well at the box office, I can easily see the start of a new action franchise for Cruise. Here’s hoping we see more of Jack Reacher soon.
Christopher McQuarrie (director) / Christopher McQuarrie (screenplay)
CAST: Tom Cruise … Reacher
Rosamund Pike … Helen
Richard Jenkins … Rodin
David Oyelowo … Emerson
Werner Herzog … The Zec
Jai Courtney … Charlie
Joseph Sikora … Barr
Alexia Fast … Sandy
Robert Duvall … Cash