“Jack Reacher” is a sharp, well-executed action/thriller that is more than a little surprising in how satisfying it is.
That said, some fans of the character may have a somewhat difficult time buying Cruise in the role. Child apparently wrote the character as a hulking mass of a man, over six feet tall and using every inch and pound to his advantage in a fight so that confrontations last mere seconds. Cruise’s diminutive stature most certainly does not lend itself to playing that sort of a physical character, but what he lacks in sheer size and presence he makes up for in execution. McQuarrie and Cruise seem to have, if nothing else, at least properly translated the essence of Reacher.
For those unfamiliar, Jack Reacher is a drifter, a ghost. He’s ex-military police, having spent the bulk of his career investigating a large number of cases in addition to being quite the decorated soldier. Now out on his own, Reacher floats from place to place with no job, no identity and only the clothes on his back. He seems to operate as a sort of freelance policeman, able to operate outside the law, caring only that justice be done. (OK, so maybe this isn’t so far removed from being a superhero movie after all…)
The film opens with a shooting that leaves five dead. All the evidence points directly to James Barr (Joseph Sikora), a former U.S. Army sniper who Reacher once almost had convicted of a quadruple murder, but who got off due to, well, extenuating circumstances. Once arrested, Barr refuses to talk to anyone other than Reacher, though by the time Reacher shows up, Barr’s been beaten into a coma.
Desperate to at least save Barr from the death penalty (should he awaken), his attorney, Helen (Rosamund Pike), works with Reacher to discover the truth of the murders.
Like I said, fairly straightforward, but the satisfaction in a film like this comes from the execution, and thankfully McQuarrie, who won an Oscar for his “Ususal Suspects” script in 1995, gets far more right than wrong.
The story might be fairly straightforward (even in its twist), but it’s engagingly laid out. It’s also surprisingly funny, with more than a few moments of humor that come from either Reacher’s actions or others underestimating him.
Really, it’s Reacher himself who makes the whole thing so engaging and it’s the uncertainty of how he’ll react or what new unobvious clue he’ll pick up on next that helps snag us from the very beginning. McQuarrie did a fantastic job of not only establishing Reacher and his ethos in a very short amount of time, but also playing on the audience’s relative unfamiliarity with the character to captivate us by his rather unpredictable nature.
Of course, much of this is due to Cruise’s performance. People love to knock on the guy, be it for his (admittedly loopy) personal life or the fact in his performances he tends to confuse intensity for emotion.
As Reacher, though, that intensity is the proper fuel for the character and it ends up fitting Cruise like a glove, diminutive stature or not. As I said, he might not be a hulking mass of a man like in the books, but he’s every bit as perceptive, sharp and brutal as seems to be required of the character.
Speaking of which, this seems as good a time as any to talk about the film’s action. Like the story, McQuarrie has taken a very straightforward approach to the action. There’s no fancy angles, no rapid editing (thank goodness) and absolutely not fancy choreography. You won’t see any kung fu flourishes here, just precise, hard-hitting action that allow us to see Reacher is as proficient at administering a beatdown as he is at analyzing a crime scene.
If I have complaints it’s at more than two hours it feels a little flabby. A little trimming to keep the pace up as it sags a bit in the middle would have worked wonders for the overall pace, though it’s certainly not enough to sink the film. Additionally, the movie feels sparse at times. The film was obviously made on a fairly slim budget and it looks it on occasion with some scenes looking oddly flat or empty.
Still, even with those issues, the film remains a thoroughly entertaining piece of popcorn entertainment. I wasn’t all that interested in the character before, but McQuarrie and Cruise have done solid work in making me look forward to the (hopefully) further adventures of Jack Reacher.