You wouldn’t know it by looking at his string of recent films, but Tom cruise is still a bona-fide movie star. His newest effort is “Jack Reacher”, a crime thriller that’s based on the popular series of novels by Lee Child. Released in the shadow of the box office juggernaut “The Hobbit”, “Jack Reacher” has received little fanfare. That’s a shame because compared to much of the stuff that passed for movies this year, this is a good, solid film and a perfect vehicle for Tom Cruise. It’s a sleek and snappy movie that features a bit of everything even though it doesn’t go far enough to really state its own identity. It’s also sure to leave you scratching your head at some of the things you’re seeing. Nevertheless, I had fun with this picture.
On the surface “Jack Reacher” resembles something pulled right out of the late 1980s. Reacher is a hard-as-nails, ex-military type turned drifter and ghost. He has the deductive skills of Sherlock Holmes and the butt kicking ability of Jason Bourne. I’ve never read any of the books so I’m uncertain of who Jack Reacher is beyond that. The movie never clearly says. Instead it plays up the character shrouded in mystery. Is he a vigilante? Is he a hired gun? Is he an off the grid cop? Well, maybe a little bit of “yes” to all. Cruise does a nice job handling the character. One of the biggest concerns about this movie with some folks was his height. Fans of the books quickly noted that Cruise’s build doesn’t match with the picture that Child creates in the series. I can’t speak to that, but I had no problems with what Cruise was doing on screen.
“Jack Reacher” isn’t a title-to-credit, nonstop, action movie. That may be one reason why Cruise worked out so well. Most of the film centers around the investigation of a brutal mass sniper shooting of five random people at a Pittsburgh promenade during broad daylight. While not graphic, the opening sequence depicting the shooting was incredibly intense and even more sobering in light of current events. It’s brilliantly shot and sets the table well. Reacher pops up and enters the investigation due to a past connection with the chief suspect. He works alongside an idealistic defense attorney (Rosamund Pike) who agrees to take the case against the better judgment of her district attorney father (Richard Jenkins). As with any decent movie mystery there are several twists and turns that keep this from being the clear-cut, open and shut case that it first appears to be.
The story moves at a snappy pace and never bogs down even though it may not have needed all of its 2 hour plus running time. As mentioned above, it never develops its own real identity. At one point it feels like a crime drama with elements taken from the 1940s. But at other times it seems to want to be an action picture, a revenge movie, or even a comedy. Luckily none of these changes in tone and direction jars the movie too far off course. It kept me interested and involved even when things begin to get a little preposterous.
Christopher McQuarrie, who worked with Cruise on “Valkyrie”, wrote the screenplay and directed the film. He’s a very capable writer as evidenced by his work on “The Usual Suspects”. But even though I was never bored with his script or his pacing, there were a few things that seemed surprisingly off, specifically the characters played by the great filmmaker Werner Herzog and Robert DuVall. Herzog plays a shadowy Russian mobster who is more of a cartoon character than a real menace. Both he and his intentions and motivations feel terribly underwritten. DuVall is a lot of fun when we first see him as a blustery gun range owner. But he turns into Reacher’s gun-toting sidekick during the big bullet-ridden action finale, a move that felt about as conventional as you’ll find.
There are also several instances of cheesy dialogue that Cruise actually handles well. Whether some of them were intentionally or unintentionally cheesy I can’t answer, but it reminded me of many of the movies I grew up watching. These few scenes left one critic saying that “Jack Reacher” belongs in a bygone era of movies. I disagree. For me, the cheese worked. I also have to praise the slick and stylish action sequences. Caleb Deschanel’s camera work is often times stunning. In fact, he stages and shoots one of the best car chase sequences I have seen in a long, long time. The movie is worth seeing just for this amazing chase.
In the end, “Jack Reacher” is a tough movie to review. It’s an engaging and entertaining movie but a slightly flawed one. It’s also a film destined to be lost in the crowd of December movies and awards season entries. I liked this picture and I liked Cruise’s performance. But the movie doesn’t end up being the one it starts as. The intense opening sequence sets the movie up as a serious and gritty crime thriller. It evolves into sheer Hollywood escapism. That certainly doesn’t kill the movie, but I would be interested to see how the other “Jack Reacher” would have played out. Still, I have to commend the movie for engaging me and giving me a good time at the theater. I would have no problem seeing this again, but I still can’t help but feel that it wasted some of its potential.