JACK REACHER– 3 STARS
When popular books and novels are turned into films, they attract a whole second audience of devoted fans and readers that join the general cinema audience. From Harry Potter all the way to the upcoming 50 Shades of Gray movie adaptation, the dedicated book fans of those works commonly develop a mental picture of what they imagine their beloved characters to look like. That’s the individual joy of books in fostering imagination. In the case of graphic novels and comic books, gifted artists help flesh that vision out and it’s up to Hollywood casting directors to take care of the rest. As I often rant on this website, no movie will ever match the book 100% ever. It’s an impossible task of translation, compression, editing, and how filmable or unfilmable certain things on a page translate to the silver screen.
When it comes to the character Jack Reacher, the fictional former United States Army Military Police captain created by British author Lee Child (the pen name for Jim Grant) and featured in 17 novels, Tom Cruise was definitely not the person the diehard fans had in mind. According to Wikipedia and Child, Jack is described as 6’5″ with a beefy 50 inch chest holding up a nearly 250 pound lean muscular frame, adorned with icy-blue eyes and dusty blond hair. Clearly, that is certainly not the brunette Tom Cruise, who tops out at 5’7″ and maybe weighs 175 pounds soaking wet. Unless Chris “Thor” Hemsworth puts down his Mjolnir hammer and gets a haircut or Jean-Paul “Triple H” Levesque puts down his sledgehammer and gets a hair cut, no one marketable in Hollywood matches Jack Reacher’s description. Well, Thor was busy and Triple H doesn’t sell movie tickets. You’re stuck with Tom Cruise, who does sell movie tickets. Deal with it the same way the Comic Book Salesman from The Simpsons has to deal with a 6’2″ singing and dancing Australian being a foot taller than a beloved Canadian mutant superhero with claws coming out of his hands.
There are two real questions fans and moviegoers should be asking when approaching Jack Reacher, from Oscar-winning writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie). The first is whether Tom Cruise can portray WHO Jack Reacher is, not WHAT he looks like. Looks are just the surface. The core of the character is in his decisive action and behavior as the formidable drifter he embodies. Tom Cruise’s performance got the stamp of approval from Lee Child himself (who also has a quick cameo in the movie). Shouldn’t that be enough? The second real question is whether the completed and compiled movie effort is entertaining. If it can be worth your money and two hours, again, shouldn’t that be enough. The answer to both questions is yes.
Jack Reacher begins with a steely unnamed assassin (newcomer Jai Courtney) perching himself in a downtown Pittsburgh parking garage and preparing a sniper rifle. With no clear motive, he begins gunning down random citizens walking he riverwalk in front of PNC Park across the river. Six are dead and a gold mine of evidence leads the police, lead by Det. Emerson (David Oyelowo of Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Red Tails), to arrest James Barr (Joseph Sikora), a loner and former Army sniper. We know he’s not the guy, but no one else does. When given the chance to admit guilt to Emerson and District Attorney Alex Rodin (Academy Award nominee Richard Jenkins), he simply writes “Get Jack Reacher” on the legal pad.
Seeing Barr’s familiar face on the news in Florida, enter Jack Reacher (Cruise). He has history with Barr and he boards a bus to Pittsburgh. As a highly decorated former investigator for the U.S. Army Military Police, he’s left the grid since returning from Iraq and has become something of a military urban legend. With no ties, possessions, or even a driver’s license, Jack is a no-nonsense drifter. He’s a man of action, few words, and swift justice. Instead of them finding him, he finds Emerson and Rodin and learns about the crime Barr is accused of. There, he gets talked into becoming the lead investigator for Barr’s defense by Rodin’s own daughter Helen (Rosamund Pike from Die Another Day) who took the case against her father.
In diving into the evidence and clues, Jack is clearly getting too close to the truth and barks up a few of the right trees. As it turns out, our mystery gunman works for a connected Russian mobster named The Zec (film director Wernor Herzog, in an extremely cheesy villain role) who’s trying to clean up the mess that could implicate him and close a lucrative business deal. Clearly, The Zec picked the wrong dog to try to throw off the scent. This guy doesn’t stop and the boundaries of the law don’t matter to him.
Jack Reacher entertains with a good bit of dramatic irony for us audience members who get to watch Jack and Helen crack the case while The Zec and his thugs seek to take him out of the equation. Without a doubt, it’s fun to see Tom Cruise go to work. This film is clearly a vehicle with him possessing sole control of the wheel, literally (he did all of his own driving stunts and it shows) and figuratively (no other stars present to steal his thunder). As I unfortunately always have to say while reviewing one of his movies, I don’t care about the man, his persona, and religious beliefs away from his movies. That’s his business and I can separate the man from the actor. This is Cruise’s best unflashy, coiled-cobra-poised-to-strike work since 2004’s Collateral. Just as his character states to those that infer, he is not a hero and us moviegoers love a man of justice working above the law (Dirty Harry, Death Wish, etc.). As the best star for stunt work in Hollywood, he puts his money where his mouth is and holds his own in exciting hand-to-hand combat and muscle car thrills. This is vintage Cruise and worth the effort, if that sort of thing is your bag, baby (and it indeed is my bag).
While Tom Cruise delivers the goods, the rest of the pieces around him are substandard at best. Werner Herzog was a clever casting touch, but he is laughably bad as tough-talking and zero action villain that looks like he could have walked out of a bad Roger Moore James Bond flick from the 80’s. Rosamund Pike is a clueless stock push-up bra for someone who’s supposed to be a brilliant attorney. Young Aussie actor Jai Courtney, being touted as the “next big thing” with Jack Reacher and a flashy role in A Good Day to Die Hard as John McClane, Jr. next year, comes from the Australian Sam Worthington School of Indiscernible Shaved Heads and Wooden Acting. He’s a yawn of charisma. Give me Taylor Kitsch any day. Proven and trained actors like Richard Jenkins and David Oyelowo can do better than Jack Reacher. The one guy who fits the bill in a late-appearing supporting role is a crusty, red-assed Robert Duvall who seems to be the only guy capable of successfully busting Tom Cruise’s titanium chops. Clearly he’s seen Days of Thunder from 22 years ago… hey, wait a minute…
LESSON #1: BEING A BETTER AND MORE OBJECTIVE INVESTIGATOR THAN THE OTHER GUY— The connection-free, moral-free, and independent thinking Jack Reacher is like the Dr. House of detective work. He crosses the line and never believes the obvious until everything else has been checked out and eliminated from possibility. He rarely puts emotion into his work, clearing the way for him to be better, more focused, and more objective than the other guy. From a back story standpoint, he gets this from his years as an MP where every suspect he’s after is a trained killer.
LESSON #2: QUESTION ANY “ORGY OF EVIDENCE” TO A CRIME— The idiom “orgy of evidence,” used in both popular culture and criminal terminology, describes a scenario where there is an usually high and obvious amount of evidence pointing the blame in one direction. In most cases, the opposite effect occurs when a logical investigator can’t believe that a criminal would be so brazen or careless to leave that many easy and deliberate clues. The idea of a the person being framed begins to come into play. No crime scene or crime is every perfect.
LESSON #3: DON’T F – – K WITH EX-MILITARY TYPES— These guys are professionals and trained better than you are to defend themselves, deal more than a little damage on offense, and even kill. Don’t attempt to get in a bar fight with them, even if you bring four other guys. Don’t try to out-gun them either. They’ve had more practice with a gun that you have wiping your own ass. Just walk away while you still can.