– 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.