“Who is Jack Reacher? Born Jack, not John. No middle name. He’s a ghost. Served in the military police. A brilliant investigator, troublemaker, too. And two years ago he disappears. You don’t find this guy unless he wants to be found.”
We’ve found him. The character of Jack Reacher comes from a series of thriller novels written by Lee Child. From the very start you know that this is going to be a different kind of Jack Reacher than fans have come to know and love from the books. He described as being 6′ 5’’ and about 250 pounds. Tom Cruise doesn’t really fit any of those description elements. He does, however, fit two very important descriptive elements when it comes to Hollywood. He’s still a big name and a pretty reliable box office draw. He also put up some of his own cash to produce the movie. Now that’s how you get cast for a part very physically different from yourself.
It’s pretty much a straightforward thriller film. It starts with a scene that is going to draw more attention than it might have if not for the horrible events at Sandy Hook Elementary. We’re all a little sensitive to this kind of scene. Some are going to be more so than others. Still, this film follows a sniper as he carefully preps his equipment and takes his position. Than we linger through his scope as he hunts for his targets and eventually takes them out. It’s a very effective scene even without the current events. Unfortunately, it won’t carry the same effect it would have just a few weeks earlier. It’s a startling scene that will certainly leave an impact. If you are in that high level of sensitivity right now, it’s honestly best that you avoid this one, at least for now.
In the aftermath of the shooting the police grab their suspect, and he’s beaten in the transport van and put into a coma. Before he was attacked he said only one thing. He would only talk to Jack Reacher (Cruise). The two have history. The suspect James Barr (Sikora) shot some folks while in Afghanistan outside of the theater of war. Reacher was the military cop assigned to the case. The military buried the story when it turned out he really did kill some bad guys without knowing it. Reacher now has it in for him and shows up at the police station just as the D.A. Rodin (Jenkins) and lead detective Emerson (Oyelowo) are trying to figure out how to find him. Barr is being defended by Rodin’s daughter Helen (Pike), and she hires Reacher to help investigate the case, knowing that he’s actually got it in for her client. But Reacher is actually an honest and fair guy who looks into the situation only to find something isn’t right. As if to confirm his suspicions, there are folks trying to kill him. When that doesn’t work, they frame him for murder. Turns out he’s interfered in a bigger plot by an enigmatic villain with most of his fingers chopped off. He’s called The Zek (Herzog). He’s a former Russian criminal and convict, and he’d like to see Reacher out of the way.
Beyond the focus on sniper activity and shooting, there are many standard thriller/action elements to be found here. Cruise engages in one of the better car chases I’ve seen in a couple of years. But the film doesn’t rely too heavily on just the action stunts and a lot of shooting. The best thing about this film happens to be the cast. Yes, purists won’t like Cruise in the role, but he really plays it well. Lately, Cruise has found himself in some off-the-wall films playing odd characters. This is a return to real drama and a more serious character for Cruise. The result just might be my favorite Cruise performance to date. I did not read the books, so I do not carry the baggage of character preconceptions. All I can say is that Cruise delivers a balanced character that can be both deadly serious and quite light and flippant as well. It’s certainly his most balanced character in years. There’s a wonderful phone conversation where Reacher delivers a speech very much like Neeson delivers in the first Taken to the kidnappers as they are grabbing his daughter.
Cruise isn’t left to carry the burden alone. I’ve loved Richard Jenkins since Six Feet Under. This is a guy who really deserves more meaty parts. He almost gets it here. The only thing wrong with the part is that there just isn’t enough of it. I don’t always buy Rosamund Pike as much as I’d like to, but I was happy that the film avoids the expected forced romantic elements here. There’s a clever scene that actually pokes some fun at that convention. David Oyelowo is a scary dude here. Any hero is only as good as his nemesis, and Oyelowo makes it easy for Cruise as Reacher to put in a solid showing. This is the kind of bad guy that really doesn’t need to say much to get the point across. Finally, the cast includes a wonderful showing by Robert Duvall as a gun range owner who teams up with Reacher in the film’s energetic climax.
Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie has a lot of toys to play with here. He has an excellent cast and some thrilling set pieces. Of course, he can’t be blamed for not knowing that the country would suffer an event that would change the way some of this material is being presented. It’s a solid thriller all the way. The best part is that McQuarrie never feels the need to push the action too much over the top. He holds himself back just enough to keep us along for the ride.
There’s a franchise here, to be sure. If you’re a little tired of the usual conventions and clichés, “There’s a Jack Reacher here to see you”.