JACK REACHER Review

I am not a fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, but that is only because I have never been afforded the chance to read one. I am a fan of Christopher McQuarrie though. McQuarrie wrote the script for one of my favorite films of all time, 1995’s The Usual Suspects. So, it is no surprise that I was genuinely excited to hear he was writing and directing a film and that it was an adaptation of a popular book series about a military investigator. Those that have read or are fans of Mr. Child’s book series were likely also very excited to hear One Shot was going to be brought to the big screen but not so much when Tom Cruise was cast in this lead role. Apparently Jack Reacher, our main protagonist, is a 6’5 beefed up ex-military man who is also a womanizer and leaves an unmistakable impression every time he walks into a room. As big a movie star as Tom Cruise is it is still hard to see his much shorter stature make up for all he is lacking physically with the intensity he was sure to bring to the role. Having not read the books this quarrel was something that was less of an issue with me and rather allowed me to be more inclined to enjoy the film rather than constantly holding my breath to see if Cruise could actually do it. While the books seem to be a series of nicely written cop procedural, stories that you might here on an episode of 48 Hours or some such programming both McQuarrie and Cruise are able to elevate this to something fresh on screen by taking notes from those that have come before. Jack Reacher is a very serious, hard edged cop drama that knows it isn’t breaking any boundaries but does what is expected of it very well.

Helen (Rosamund Pike) and Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise).
While the title of the film was changed from One Shot to simply our hero’s name, likely with the hopeful intent of beginning a series a la the Bourne films, it is important to remember that title when considering the plot points of this very meticulous film. In the opening moments of the movie we are put through the horror of a mass shooting and how disturbing it is to have someone take the lives of innocent people going about their day unsuspecting of it being their last moments. While this has little to do with the recent events in the news involving the Connecticut shooting it certainly isn’t the best timing and will definitely rattle many viewer’s cages. As I was watching it, as the shots began to be fired and I realized what was happening, I covered my mouth both in surprise and shock at how merciless the whole act is, how selfish. Even without the recent shooting at Sandy Hook elementary though, this would still be a tough scene to swallow as McQuarrie uses limited amounts of music so as not to manipulate us into how we should feel but instead plays on the raw mentality of what it takes for a person to go through with such a thing. It is no spoiler in stating Charlie (Jai Courtney) is the culprit as it is revealed in the opening moments, but the way in which the writer/director gives us only his perspective as he looks through the cross hairs, picking out his targets. We want to believe as he passes from person to person that he is feeling anxious now that he is actually there, we wonder if he will actually go through with this no matter the reason or lack thereof. The entire scene you are required to hold your breath and when it turns around on you and feeds you a soulless figure performing unnecessary executions we are immediately prompted to need justice, thus Jack Reacher enters the picture.

It is hard to go too much into the story without giving certain things away, it is of course obvious from the trailer that the believed culprit behind the shootings has been framed. Reacher, recognizing this man from TV reports shows up in the offices of detective Emerson (a fast emerging David Oyelow) and district attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins) looking for the evidence and the man they have in custody, an ex-marine named James Barr. Clearly no one would want such a client or even to take on the challenge of representing a man believed to have killed six people with no other motive than as a trained military sniper he was never able to see any real battle, never able to fire his gun and so has taking to quenching that thirst through random murder. This burden comes to fall upon Rodin’s daughter Helen (Rosamund Pike) who believes it to be an open and shut case the same as everyone else but still has to perform her job and enlists Reacher to help her do so. From there the film goes through the motions of an investigation, but the fun in Jack Reacher comes from watching Cruise as the title character go through these motions. Cruise plays him with a coolness where words come scarce and nothing more than what needs to be said is spoken. More times than not Reacher is also a pretty funny guy which lends a nice sense of relief, a good bit of fun to the otherwise serious, hard-edged tone of the film. Robert Duvall even shows up in a small but critical role near the end delivering a genuine, set in his ways American man that owns a gun range. While Jenkins, Oyelow, and Pike have somewhat limited roles in that they are more archetypes than fleshed out characters they do their best with what they’ve been given while Courtney and Werner Herzog as a man simply called The Zec relish in their villainous roles and provide a real-life picture of a threat and their means to an end rather than having what could have easily been become laughably outlandish.

Tom Cruise and Robert Duvall in the adaptation of Lee Child's One Shot novel. 
The true test of whether this film would be successful though (other than box office of course) would be the character Cruise was able to create from the source material and if the audience would embrace the man or not. Though, like I said, I had no expectations going in I was relieved to see Jack Reacher become more than your stereotypical hero. He is a man’s man in the sense that he can fight, he knows what he is doing, he knows how smart he is, and he is confident in his abilities. Where he defers from the route is with the aforementioned wit he consistently displays, the way in which he expertly navigates through the evidence staying in toe with the guys who are one step ahead of him. He maintains a mystery about him the whole time still and elevates the standard story by making his character not so much. The entire film feels like a homage to those old noir films of the 70’s featuring a maverick lead. McQuarrie plays this up in the way he shoots and paces the film as well as how he documents the exceptional action scenes. The majority of the time the camera holds steady, a static shot of whoever might be speaking, yet when Reacher gets involved in a car chase through downtown Pittsburgh or a shootout in an abandoned quarry the camera moves not with flair but with direct intent. There is nothing flashy about it. It moves to up the stakes and to allow us as much as possible into the very guarded psyche of our main protagonist. It works for me in that Jack Reacher may not add anything new to the pantheon of action films hitting the cinemas today, but the man of the title is interesting enough to engage us and keep us coming back should enough people get to know him this first time around.