A man who doesn’t play by the law when it comes to delivering justice isn’t an original idea for a main character, and Tom Cruise is far from an original action star, but somehow “Jack Reacher” doesn’t suffer too much from being stale.
Lee Child’s book series appears to be a good fit for film by combining two traditional genres into one seemingly unique hybrid. “Jack Reacher” weaves together a traditional thriller structure with climactic points of physical, “Bourne”-like action. The heart of the story is a mystery, but its fuel is the brutal hand-to-hand combat sequences.
Based on the Reacher novel titled “One Shot,” the film centers on the horrific murder of a handful of civilians in Pittsburgh by sniper rifle. An ex-military sniper named James Barr (Joseph Sikora) has prints are all over the crime scene and the prosecutor’s office believes it has an open-and-shut case. Instead of confessing, however, Barr tells them to “get Jack Reacher.” The next day he is assaulted while in custody and beat into a coma.
Reacher (Cruise) is also ex-military, investigating internal crimes. He’s a drifter who never leaves a trail unless he wants to be found. And sure enough, he shows up at the D.A.’s office right on cue. He eventually strikes a deal with the attorney defending Barr’s case, Helen (Rosamund Pike), who happens to be the D.A.’s daughter. He becomes her chief investigator and like that he’s off gathering evidence, though he wants Barr to be guilty as much as anyone.
We know from the film’s excellently chilling opening sequence that Barr is not guilty and that a much younger man (Jai Courtney) actually shot those civilians and must have wanted to frame him for some reason. As the mystery unravels, Cruise as Reacher collects badass points by taking guys down at every turn until he finds the truth.
Better thrillers with less obvious twists and more satisfying endings have definitely existed, and plenty of better action movies have graced the silver screen, with Cruise himself even starring in some of them. But “Reacher” still offers a satisfying watch for genre film fans.
Reacher has a distinctive personality as a character. He has a sharp sense of humor that writer/director Christopher McQuarrie expertly translates (I assume), a man whose intelligence and no-nonsense animalistic side appear constantly at odds with one another. Some folks will become fans of the character very quickly, while others will at least be piqued. Cruise is normally an odd choice when you want someone imposing, but he add a foot to his height in his performance alone.
McQuarrie makes an impressive directorial debut. The imagery and some of the storytelling devices elevate “Reacher” above your typical thriller. The quiet opening sequence plunges you right into the story and creates an emotional investment in wanting to know what happens, even if how it all happens isn’t ultimately that satisfying. McQuarrie set his bar really high with his Oscar-winning screenplay for “The Usual Suspects” and his other projects haven’t measured up, but he might have found a good vehicle for his talents. His rumored attachment as the next director of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise has my approval to be sure.
It’s Cruise’s show, but Courtney shows potential as an action star and Pike proves why she needs to get better roles. Helen is a part that could’ve been played off as more of your typical “female criminal justice system person in over her head” character, but Pike blends a good deal of resolve in with her fear. She’s no Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, but “Jack Reacher” is no “Silence of the Lambs.”
Although his screen time is comparable in terms of how little of it there is, Werner Herzog’s villainous character is far from Hannibal Lecter too. It’s fun seeing him in a creepy role like this, but he proves to be a waste, and Robert Duvall comes in late in the game too as a bizarre character that strikes me as someone from the book(s) McQuarrie wanted to include.
The script wants to establish Reacher as someone who is not your typical hero, someone you don’t always find yourself rooting for at every turn because some of his decisions are rash and frankly, not satisfying from an entertainment perspective. To do so, the film doesn’t deliver certain satisfying conventions we associate with action films and thrillers, yet there’s little doubt that fans of both genres will be curious to see if Reacher comes back to the screen in the near future.
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
Written by Christopher McQuarrie, Lee Child (novel)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Jai Courtney, Richard Jenkins