I suppose this is yet more proof that one should never, ever judge a movie’s quality by its trailers. Because while the trailers make “Jack Reacher” out to be a fairly generic, flat Tom Cruise Action vehicle, the final product is (despite some flaws and flab) one of the more entertaining action offerings of the year.
This is the type of straight forward, “meat and potatoes” action/thriller that at one time seemed to be far more prevalent at one point in the cinematic landscape. Then superheroes became de rigueur and it’s become difficult to find an action offering that doesn’t also include tight leather and/or capes. If you were hoping (and subsequently disappointed) for “Taken 2” to help fill that void, you’ll be happy to know “Jack Reacher” certainly picks up the slack.
The film is based on Lee Child’s best-selling book, “One Shot,” the ninth in Child’s ongoing series focusing on Jack Reacher. I’ve not read the books, but the film at least doesn’t seem to hinge on having any past knowledge of the character. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie’s script does a fine job of establishing just who Reacher is and the ethos by which he operates.
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…)
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.
This is hardly anything shockingly original, 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 brutal, this seems as good a time as any to talk about the film’s action. Like the story, McQuarrie has taken a no-frills 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 that 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.
Also, 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.