This time last year Tom Cruise was soaring in the dazzling Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, the best of what’s been a mostly impressive action series. Ghost Protocol’s critical and box-office success makes the middling Jack Reacher all the more puzzling.
Jack Reacher, the first in a presumably planned series based on Lee Child’s books, is a competently made action film, but we’ve come to expect more from Brand Cruise than merely average.
No doubt the appeal of this film for Cruise was its anti-hero protagonist, a former U.S. Army Military Police Major who lives off the grid, yet has a knack for showing up where needed, then kicking butt and solving crimes. Reacher is a poor man’s Batman — the film goes so far as to reward him with a superhero creed as its coda.
In this first big-screen adventure Reacher appears in Pittsburgh shortly after a sniper has gunned down five random pedestrians. This violent sequence opens the film and is so uncomfortable, given the recent school shooting, one wonders why the sequence wasn’t trimmed, or Jack Reacher’s opening pushed back until our collective emotions aren’t so raw. Then one remembers that this is Hollywood and that too much money is at stake for Paramount to delay a Cruise Christmas release. And so on with the show.
The police quickly nab the shooting suspect, a former military sniper gone unhinged named Barr, and amass a mountain of evidence pointing to his guilt.
Barr’s defense is a no-win situation for his attorney Helen (Rosamund Pike), who takes on the case against the advice from almost everyone, including her dad, who lectures her that it’s career suicide. Helen doesn’t expect to win; she’s hoping to get Barr a life sentence instead of the death penalty. But Barr isn’t talking: he was beaten into a coma while in police custody, and during his initial interrogation his only statement was a written plea: “Get Jack Reacher.”
Reacher and Barr have a history, though it’s not good: While both were in the military Reacher connected Barr to a horrible crime. But his investigative instincts tell him Barr is innocent this time, and he teams up with Helen to prove it..
Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie paces his film at a steady clip, and the requisite car chases and action sequences are well executed. But his attempts at shoehorning humor into tense standoffs play to groans and silence, with head-scratching lines like threatening to beat a villain to death and then “drink [his] blood from my boot.” Is this the same Oscar-winning screenwriter for The Usual Suspects?
And while Cruise is the big star, there is nothing big about the actor in this film. In fact, the 5-foot-7-inch actor has rarely looked this ... small. Reacher, as written by Child, is an imposing, NFL-ready presence who stands nearly a foot taller than Cruise and weighs nearly 250 pounds. Cruise is ripped, and the actor can reasonably fake an intimidating presence onscreen, but there’s a significant discrepancy in his Reacher from that of the books. It doesn’t help that most of Cruise’s cast members stand equal to his gaze if not look down at him.
Memorable as Paul Giamatti’s forgiving and beautiful ex-wife Miriam in the 2010 drama Barney’s Version, Pike makes the most of her character, an impassioned attorney with daddy issues. And with enough action and suspense to move the plot along, the film thankfully doesn’t try to force an unnecessary romance between Helen and Reacher, either. Making the most of limited screen time is Robert Duvall as a colorful gun enthusiast who owns an Ohio shooting range.
Herzog also makes the most of what little screen time he’s given as the wealthy businessman and criminal mastermind known as The Zec. The eminently quotable German filmmaker, best known for his directorial efforts 1972’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God and the 2005 documentary Grizzly Man, is an inspired choice as the mysterious Zec. His chilling tale of self-survival delivered to a hired thug tasked with the same grisly choice is riveting. But Herzog doesn’t have the opportunity to make an impression beyond his twisted fortitude; as a villain he’s less terrifying than Darwinian.
Jai Courtney of Showtime’s Spartacus: Vengeance plays Zec’s dangerous enforcer, Charlie, a killing machine in his own right. It’s only a matter of time before he and Reacher clash, and, unlike most of the film, their bruising battle doesn’t disappoint.
Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, based on the Lee Child novel One Shot. A Paramount Pictures release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons. Rated PG-13 for violence, language, and some drug material. Running time: 130 minutes.
Critic’s rating: **½
Jack Reacher Tom Cruise
Helen Rosamund Pike
Rodin Richard Jenkins
The Zec Werner Herzog
Contact Kirk Baird at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.