Movie Review – Jack Reacher

As far as the standard blockbuster fare Cruise normally appears in goes, this film, Jack Reacher, isn’t much chop. Cruise has certainly been in better. Yet, for all the muscle in front of, and behind, the screen, Reacher’s anticlimactic plotting and insipid Bad Guy development claw back any kind of tension within Cruise’s narrative here – he’s supposed to be some sort of unstoppable ex-military dude, a kind-of Jason Bourne for the Iraq War generation, and Cruise certainly exudes the raw, don’t-f@ck-with-me arrogance needed for the role, but the rest of the characters in the film feel too generic to flesh out the rest of the movie. Had it not been for Cruise in the driver’s seat, I’m pretty sure we’d not be reading about this film right here, right now.


– Summary –

Director :   Christopher McQuarrie
Year Of Release :   2012
Principal Cast :  Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog, David Oyelowo, Robert Duvall, Jai Courtney, Josheph Sikora, Michael Raymond-James, Alexia Fast.
Approx Running Time :   130 Minutes
Synopsis:   After a former US sniper goes on a killing spree, it’s up to off-the-grid ex military operative Jack Reacher and the daughter of the local district attorney to unwrap the mystery of why, who and how.
What we think :  As far as the standard blockbuster fare Cruise normally appears in goes, this film, Jack Reacher, isn’t much chop. Cruise has certainly been in better. Yet, for all the muscle in front of, and behind, the screen, Reacher’s anticlimactic plotting and insipid Bad Guy development claw back any kind of tension within Cruise’s narrative here – he’s supposed to be some sort of unstoppable ex-military dude, a kind-of Jason Bourne for the Iraq War generation, and Cruise certainly exudes the raw, don’t-f@ck-with-me arrogance needed for the role, but the rest of the characters in the film feel too generic to flesh out the rest of the movie. Had it not been for Cruise in the driver’s seat, I’m pretty sure we’d not be reading about this film right here, right now.


Reacher said….. plenty.

As unfamiliar as I am with the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child, even I wasn’t immune to the fanboy dissatisfaction with Tom Cruise’s decision to play the title role; apparently, the literary Jack Reacher is some sort of behemoth, an unstoppable force of nature, which makes one pause when considering Tom Cruise’s legendary diminutive stature might need some kind of digital augmentation to… bring him up to the right level to portray the character. Let’s put that to bed right now: Cruise doesn’t need to be ten feet tall to play Reacher, because what matters most in stories like this is character, not stature. Jack Reacher’s main narrative is a detective story, albeit with a few nice punches, fights and car chases thrown in for good measure. Cruise, as Reacher, needs to be convincing as a character, not as a hulking brute of a man. Does he do the film justice with his portrayal? Is Jack Reacher the film character worthwhile of an entire film? Is the film itself worthy of your time to watch it?

It's not the size of the gun that counts....
It’s not the size of the gun that counts….

A man drives into a parking garage across the river from Pittsburgh’s ANC Park, and using specialist sniper skills, murders five innocent people. The police determine the killer if former Marine sniper James Barr, whom they capture. Before he is put into a coma thanks to some burly men in a police wagon, Barr asks the District Attorney (Richard Jenkins) to “get Jack Reacher”, a former MPC officer, now drifter, with some rather impressive credentials. Reacher (Tom Cruise), seeing Barr’s fate on television, arrives in Pittsburgh to bury him, only to be drawn into the investigation by chief defense attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), who just happens to be the daughter of the DA. As Reacher begins to investigate the crime, he uncovers a background of deceit and deception: Barr was framed for the killings, which were used to secure power for an underground organization through which a man known as The Zec (Wener Herzog), whose chief henchman Charlie (Jai Courtney) leaves a trail of death and destruction wherever he goes. Joining Reacher for the showdown, is rifle range owner Cash (Robert Duvall), who is instrumental in leading Reacher to Charlie.

Come at me, bro!
Come at me, bro!

There’s something to be said for the roles Tom Cruise chooses to play: regardless of their validity or moral standing, you always get 100% from Cruise. He’s a perfectionist actor, a genuine star of the big screen, in that no matter what role he takes on, he gives it his absolute all. The same, unfortunately, can’t be said for the majority of “stars” out there today, a lot of whom might see a Jack Reacher film as something of a “slumming it” opportunity. The film’s story feels very pulpish, drawn as it is from Lee Child’s eponymous series of novels (in particular, the novel used as the basis for this film, One Shot) and to be honest, there’s a sense of discontinuation about everything here that galled me. One Shot is not the first Reacher novel (it’s the 9th) and so I would say a lot of the explanatory work Child’s might have done to get us into his character was done a whole lot earlier than this story – the end result on film is something of a modern day noir homage, with Reacher being the “she had legs that went for days” kinda flatfoot detective role one might see James Cagney play. Cruise has a magnetic screen personality (even if he is crazy on the outside, the mad, mad bastard) and it’s only this that prevents Jack Reacher from being a midday movie affair. There’s no real set-up, just a short introduction to Reacher and BAM, we’re into it.

No, THAT'S where the Ark Of The Covenant is buried....
No, THAT’S where the Ark Of The Covenant is buried….

While I’m loathe to say Jack Reacher’s main problem is whenever Cruise isn’t in the frame, I have to admit defeat in trying to avoid it. Reacher’s lack of truly decent characterization outside of Reacher himself, and Helen Rodin, leaves the film free to flim-flam along whenever its star isn’t in the picture. This only occurs when we need to see the Bad Guys doing their thing, and it’s hard to define even now, having seen the film, exactly why they’re doing the things they do. The Bad Guys’ motivations aren’t ever truly clear: there’s no ticking bomb, countdown clock or ghastly financial apocalypse dooming the globe in this film; in fact, I’m hard pressed to remember exactly why the Bad Guys (Jai Courtney and the wonderful Werner Herzog) did anything at all. The film’s focus is on the conspiracy, not the reason for it, and this didn’t work for me. Cloak and dagger pronouncements and casual, in-the-dark murders by the Bad Guys are meant to be menacing here, but the payoff is – at best – halfhearted. Perhaps I was expecting a more straightforward Hollywood actioner than what I got, but it left me a bit cold. The story is solid for what it has to do, and the scripting is briskly paced and free of any fat, but the dearth of development to the intricacies of the plotting, which would allow us to be drawn into the stakes inherent in whatever Reacher and Helen are fighting for, leave the film too thin on the ground to care about.

Even now, you're reading this in Arnold's voice, aren't you.....
Even now, you’re reading this in Arnold’s voice, aren’t you…..

The cast are solid without being exceptional. Cruise’s turn as Reacher comes across as something between Liam Neeson in Taken and Matt Damon in The Bourne Supremacy. The man’s a killer, he’s sure of himself, and he will not stop to get the job done; I use the Taken analogy because as the final reel of the film kicks in, Cruise delivers his version of the “I will find you, and I will kill you” speech to Jai Courtney’s Bad Guy over the phone, although here it doesn’t quite have the same impact Neeson’s did in his own film. While the book-Reacher is a man of few words, Cruise’s Reacher is a man of many. Cruise’s bulked up dialogue, largely exposition and explanation for the exposition, goes a long way to salvaging the film’s relatively thin plot from being too generic, but any Reacher fanboy would tell you, that’s not the real soul of the character. In any case, I think it worked for the film. Rosamund Pike is gallant, although underdeveloped, for the role of Helen. She’s a competent actress, sure, but no match in intensity or charisma for Cruise. I kept thinking she’d make an excellent assistant for Doctor Who, if you get my analogy. Small roles to Werner Herzog (who plays the creepy like nobody’s business) and Robert Duvall (reteaming with Cruise after Days Of Thunder all those years ago, and who always sound like a hick-farmboy from Kentucky in whatever role he plays) go a long way to providing screen heft to the film, with Aussie boy (and son of John McClane, if A Good Day To Die Hard is any indication) Jai Courtney doing his best silent killer impression as The Zec’s chief henchman. Richard Jenkins is given little to do as Helen’s father, the DA, and David Oyelowo plays a Pittsburgh detective leading the prosecution of James Barr for the crime.

You know, old man, you sound an awful lot like this race-car mechanic I met once.....
What the f@ck do you mean, rubbing’s racing?

Christopher McQuarrie’s direction is tight, if not always stunning. It’s a style of direction one might term “workmanlike”. McQuarrie’s best known for scripting films as diverse as Valkyrie and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (both with Cruise) as well as Bryan Singer’s X-Men, the Johnny Depp bomb The Tourist, and Jack The Giant Slayer (again for Singer). His directorial work hasn’t set the world on fire – he helmed Way Of The Gun back in 2000, a film way better than critics give it credit for, but a film which could have been better with a more accomplished director at the helm. McQuarrie’s direction here feels more like a television episode of CSI than a full-fledged feature; he makes little use of the terrific Pittsburgh shooting locations other than around the Allegheny River area and frames everything in a decidedly low key way. Whether this is a creative decision or not, it annoyed me more than it entertained me. I wanted to see what was going on, but the shroud of darkness over the film’s key sequences felt more like an obstruction to the narrative than an effective creative methodology.

This is more than a fair fight. There's one of me.
This is more than a fair fight. There’s one of me.

Jack Reacher’s probably not going to appear highly on a lengthy highlight reel of Cruise’s career down the track. It’s more at the Knight And Day end of the spectrum than the Mission Impossible end, although it’s a damn sight better than Knight And Day thanks largely to Cruise’s more muscular presence front-and-center here. As I said, without Cruise in the film, this movie would have been merely an als0-ran and not much of anything to worry about. With Cruise in it, it’s at least a passable entertainment, depending on your tolerance for the deviation from Child’s book and characters. Jack Reacher does have bland characters, and a story that feels like it’s cobbled from the body parts of other scripts (I know, it’s based on the book, but what can I say?) but it’s still entertaining simply to see Cruise doing his best not to look like Ethan Hunt.




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21 thoughts on “Movie Review – Jack Reacher

  1. As someone who doesn't hate Cruise by definition (and doesn't know how to read so i haven't read the books), i thought Cruise was really the only interesting thing in this film. Your last paragraph sums up my thoughts perfectly, brother.
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  2. I'm in the same position as Rodney: I have not read any of the Jack Reacher novels. So, I tried to go into watching this film with an impartial perspective (which has become increasingly hard over recent years with more and more voices spilling out via the 'net). I'll admit that I have lost a lot of faith in Mr. Cruise over the last decade or so, what with his Scientology obsessions and moronic dancing on black women's couches, as well as some horrendously abysmal films (Knight & Day, Valkyrie, Vanilla %&*$ing Sky), but he has recently started to show that he still has what it takes (Tropic Thunder, M:I III & IV), so I thought I'd give him one last try.

    I thought he did quite a reasonable job in portraying Reacher. Yes, Reacher is 6'5" and about 220-250 lbs (which physically Tom could never be) and he's quieter than a monk on a vow of silence, but in a Hollywood movie the lead character needs to convey themselves to the audience to build a relationship and I agree with Rodney that this verbose version created for Cruise does this job well. I don't believe that Reacher is portrayed with a "raw, don't-f@#k-with-me arrogance", but with a heavy reluctance to instigate any violence, he knows that if pressed into a tight corner, he will always find a way out. The fighting style is similar to that Liam Neeson's character in Taken, or Jason Bourne: intelligent, with only the minimum amount of force required to inhibit his opponent and always surveying his surroundings for any aid or assistance to turn the fight his way.

    However, there are some major flaws in this film. Robert Duvall's character? Could it be any more of a cliche? And yes, what was the deal about Werner Herzog's character? "I appear for about five minutes in the film, and my character is supposedly important to the storyline but is made as vague as Miley Cyrus' understanding of propriety!" And from the moment Reacher drops the line that he's going to kill the bad guys, from then on, the film drowned in its own stupidity. It was going so well up to that point! And the final confrontation? Ugh, don't get me started on that. I was seriously cheesed off after that.

    My thoughts? Promising start, with good character development by Cruise, but eventually flops into a big gluggy pile of blergh with a horrendously contrived ending.

    Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment. After all, I did go and see Oblivion at the cinemas…

    1. From now on, all my reviews will be rated on the line "big gluggy pile of blergh"… that's awesome.

      I'm so glad we agree on this one, mate. The major flaws you mentioned, including keeping Robert Duvall and Wener Herzog off-screen for the bulk of the film, are spot on. And I'm with you on the final confrontation; it was terribly lame. If you've ever tried to fight somebody in the teeming rain, you'd know it was damn near impossible.

  3. Some of Child's books are better than others. Personally, I think if you're going to make a movie from a book, then you have to be true to the essence of the book. It's the equivalent of the first HP movie trying to make Ron a stud from the start – it's not true to the book.
    It's a little different with TV series. Bones and Dexter are both characters which began in literary form, but their tv equivalent is only BASED on the book character/s; the tv series' don't try to replicate the books like a movie-based-on-book should, so you can still enjoy both forms (although you need to make some allowances).

    1. You make a good point, Angela, although Hollywood has a long (sad) history with not giving the source material for book-to-film translations much respect. If you're going to make changes to the narrative, fine. If you're going to make changes to the location, the language and the removal of ancillary characters, this too is fine. It's when you do so and don't justify it within the context of the story, that things come undone. And changing the central character completely? Dangerous ground. Can't imagine Peter Jackson making Frodo into a muscle-bound uber-hobbit, can you? LOL!!!

  4. I've read one Jack Reacher novel (not the one the film is based on) and that was more than enough. Bland, derivative and completely lacking an original bone in its body. That's what made me wary about a Jack Reacher movie. Principally, the source material isn't very good. However, it is commercial in the sense that it has a basic high concept, an action hero who is a bit like James Bond with muscles, and a generic story about the good guys overcoming the bad. Having watched the film I tend to agree with a lot of what you say. Some of it is actually quite interesting but ultimately it ends up like the book (you feel like you've just watched someone piece together a story by nicking bits from other movies). And it takes itself far too seriously. Also, I thought Tom Cruise was poor in the lead role.
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    1. You've hit the nail on the head, Dan – the film feels generic to a degree, like a jigsaw from other films of the genre. As you've read, I'd disagree with you re Cruise (many others wouldn't though!) but he was let down by the material, for sure.

        1. I'll take that under advisement, Dan. I'm probably never going to get time to read the books anyway, but I DID flirt with the idea of the Reacher stuff for a moment or three. Glad to know I don't really have to.

    1. I think what I meant by that line was that he's supremely confident in his own ability, which I guess could either be arrogance or confidence. Reacher doesn't show off, though, which indicates a lack of arrogance. Probably not the best choice of words.

  5. It's BECAUSE Cruise is in the driving seat that I DIDN'T and WON'T see this movie. I (and millions of others) who fell in love (yes, I literally have a crush on a fictional character) with Reacher through the books find the casting of Cruise to be an insult. Reacher in the books is not arrogant, and this is one of the main reasons why Cruise does not work in the role. Not to mention Reacher is supposed to be 6 foot 5 with a 50-inch chest. This mass, accompanied with a quiet personality far far from Cruise's flamboyance, is crucial to the character, what he does, how he does it, and why. E.G. The movie shows Cruise in a sports car. Reacher would steal something reliable and inconspicuous, most likely from a drug dealer, change the plates and ditch it after he's done with it after a few hours/a day.

    1. Hmm, not having read the books myself, I had no investment in Cruise's ability (or inability, as the case may be) to personify the character, although I'd read enough critical opinion to figure out that he was physically unsuited to the role, but I think some of the character traits you mention are dealt with quite well in the film; Cruise's Racher is definitely not arrogant, at all, and I'd never describe his performance here as "flamboyant" – quite the opposite, actually. To my mind, Cruise was operating at a Jason Bourne intensity, quietly spoken and almost cat-like in examination before explosion. I can't say much about the sports car, because Reacher seems to steal of "borrow" quite a number of different cars throughout the movie, but in the context of the film, he was after a car at that specific moment with muscle and speed and brute force, to escape potential capture (please correct me if I'm wrong, it's been a while!).

      There's no denying Cruise's stature as a physical specimen didn't lend itself to the image all those book-readers had in their minds when the film was being produced, but (and again, I say this as someone who hasn't read the books!) I think Cruise nailed the CHARACTER even in light of the deficiencies you mention.

      Thanks for stopping in, Ang!

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