Written PostJosh Reviews Jack Reacher

Josh Reviews Jack Reacher

I’ve never read any of the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Childs, so I didn’t come into the film Jack Reacher sharing the pre-conceived upset that many Reacher fans had at the casting of the very short Tom Cruise as the 6’5″ tank of a man described in the books.  I did go into the film thinking that the title of Jack Reacher was very stupid and not nearly as cool as that of the book from which the film’s story was adapted: One Shot.  (I guess the filmmakers wanted to emulate the huge success that was the John Carter of Mars adaptation John Carter…)  I was mostly interested in seeing Jack Reacher because it was written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote the script for The Usual Suspects.

Overall, I felt the film was a decently entertaining crime flick, well-made though not particularly memorable.

At the start of the film, we see a sniper ruthlessly murder five pedestrians on a sunny day in Philadelphia.  The police are easily able to apprehend the shooter, a young man named James Barr, who upon capture insists that he will only speak with Jack Reacher.  Reacher (Tom Cruise), once a military police officer in the army, has left the service and dropped off the grid entirely.  Luckily, for reasons that are made clear as the film progresses, Reacher is aware of what has happened and arrives on the scene, saving anyone the impossible task of locating him.  He doesn’t feel he is needed, but the defense attorney Helen (Rosamund Pike) convinces him to assist her investigation.  The two soon discover that a fierce crime-lord known only as the Zec (Werner Herzog) is involved, as well as possibly someone in the D.A.’s office.

Tom Cruise is solid in the lead role.  He gives Reacher a more dour attitude than many of his previous action-hero roles (like Ethan Hunt), and that feels like the right choice.  Mr. Cruise is pretty convincing kicking ass in the film, and I wasn’t bothered by his height in the role whatsoever.  His handsome face and innate charm help convey Reacher’s power, and why he is so effective at getting people to do what he wants, even though he lacks almost every social grace.

I’ve been a fan of Rosamund Pike ever since her great work in the otherwise-very-mediocre Bond film Die Another Day.  I think she’s a terrific screen presence, and she is perfectly good as the noble defense attorney Helen, though the character is pretty thin.  Reacher does most of the real investigative work, and unfortunately Helen is relegated to being a damsel in distress by the end of the film.

The film’s piece of genius casting is that of director Werner Herzog as the evil Zec.  Under a great make-up design, Mr. Herzog is phenomenal and quite memorable as the brooding, take-no-prisoners Russian crime-boss.  He’s a great villain.  I can’t say that the character is at all fleshed out — like most of the characters in this film, he is pretty one-note.  But Mr. Herzog plays that one note to perfection, growling and leering his way through the role.  He’s great.

I also need to highlight the small appearance by the great Robert Duvall.  It’s incredible to see Mr. Duvall, one of the finest actors ever, back on the big screen.  He’s a hoot as a gun-store-owner named Cash, a vision of the kind of man Jack Reacher might one day become.  If this whole film had been a buddy movie between Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher and Robert Duvall’s character, this might have been a much better movie!

It’s also fun seeing the always-great Richard Jenkins (Cabin in the Woods) and David Oyelowo, though Mr. Oyelowo is playing basically the exact same character here that he did in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  (Though at least in Apes, I had some understanding of the character’s motivation.)

Jack Reacher is a pretty brutal film.  There are a few moments of really excruciating violence that leave quite an impact.  They are effectively gruesome scenes, though to be honest I felt those moments felt a bit out of place in what otherwise feels like a fairly standard crime film.  It’s not like the whole film has the violent intensity of, say, a movie directed by Quentin Tarantino.  Those moments of brutal violence succeeded in making me as an audience-member very uncomfortable, though they did not succeed in making me more engaged with the story being told.

There are certainly some great fights in the movie (the fight that begins with Reacher getting smacked in the back of the head with a bat and falling into a tub is a stand-out), and there is a terrific car-chase in the middle of the film (that climaxes in the great moment, seen in all of the trailers, in which a group of pedestrians helps Reacher blend in to hide from the pursuing cops).  I hated, though, the hand-to-hand fight between Reacher and the Zec’s main henchman at the end of the film.  Oh, it’s a perfectly good, bone-crunching fight.  The problem is that, in a move right out of dumb-movie-land, Reacher decides to put down his weapon and engage the bad-guy in a hand-to-hand fight.  I guess to see who is the most macho.  It’s a really stupid moment.

Focusing more on the positive, a real highlight of the movie for me was the sequence in which we briefly get to know each of the five sniper victims, as Helen and Jack reconstruct who they were before they were killed.  It’s an extremely powerful, emotional few minutes, brilliantly written, directed, performed, and edited.  But as with the film’s moments of brutal violence, it felt out of place in this otherwise just so-so film.  Those few minutes were very emotional, but I didn’t feel the film earned those emotions, nor did I think the film did much with those emotions as the rest of the story unfolded.

Overall I enjoyed Jack Reacher, and the film tells a solidly entertaining noirish crime story.  But there’s nothing particularly memorable or great about the film.  It’s hard for me to see this movie as the start of a franchise.