Jack Reacher is a good movie with a terrible title. Based on One Shot, the ninth novel in the “Jack Reacher” series of novels by British author Lee Child (which now counts 18 titles to date), it is a highly enjoyable throwback to gritty ’70s crime thrillers that were made without wires, CGI, or hyperkinetic editing and instead relied on stunts, narrative twists, and star power. Tom Cruise, who also produced the film, provides the star power, and even if his eponymous character is an overly familiar entry into the centuries-old lexicon of flinty, loner heroes who operate according to their own moral code, Cruise makes him work in a way that is both thoroughly fantastical and effectively down to earth. When, late in the film, he angrily threatens a particularly nasty villain by telling him he wants to beat him to death and then drink his blood from a boot, you believe that he could do it and, even more importantly, you genuinely want to see it happen. No major movie star excels like Cruise in conveying intensity and sheer force of will, and Jack Reacher gives him plenty of opportunities.
The story takes place in Pittsburgh and opens with a mysterious sniper opening fire on the riverwalk in the middle of a bright, sunny morning, killing five seemingly random people. All evidence at the scene points to James Barr, a former Army sniper who, once taken into custody by the lead detective (David Oyelowo), asks for Jack Reacher, a former U.S. Army Military Police Corps officer-turned-drifter who lives entirely off the grid. Reacher ends up working with Barr’s defense attorney, Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), whose father (Richard Jenkins) is the district attorney prosecuting the case. Helen’s goal is to simply keep Barr off death row since all the evidence is stacked against him, but Reacher sense a conspiracy and manages to piece together enough evidence to make a compelling argument. We, of course, know that there is a conspiracy since we saw in the opening scene that Barr was not the sniper; rather, the man behind the scope was a hired gun named Charlie (Jai Courtney) who works for a sinister, mysterious crime lord known only as The Zec (German director Werner Herzog, perfectly cast).
Part of the film’s pleasure, then, is watching as Reacher digs beneath the obvious to root out the actual culprits, which he does while being pursued by both the Zec’s hired thugs and eventually the police, who mistakenly believe that Reacher murdered a young woman (Alexia Fast) who was just a pawn in the plot. Jack Reacher is, at its core, a procedural mystery, and its best elements revolve around the investigative process, which is not at all how the film was sold (rather, it was pitched as an all-out action movie). There are certainly a number of big action sequences and fight scenes sprinkled throughout the narrative, including a street brawl in which Reacher has to take on five guys at once, a bruising encounter in a very small bathroom, and a nighttime car chase through downtown Pittsburgh that finds Reacher chasing the bad guys while being pursued himself by the police. And, as well done as these sequences are, the movie is much better in the in-between, when Reacher is working with Helen and, later, a grizzled gun range owner played by Robert Duvall.
Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie first worked with Cruise as the screenwriter for Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie (2008), and he has since gone on to write and direct the two most recent entries in the Cruise’s Mission: Impossible franchise. McQuarrie is an old-school, meat-and-potatoes filmmaker with one foot in the past and one in the future; he won an Oscar for writingThe Usual Suspects (1995), a striking indie that redefined and established all new expectations for the twist ending, while his directorial debut, the bloody, nihilistic The Way of the Gun (2000), would have made Sam Peckinpah proud. As both writer and director, McQuarrie has a strong sense of character and drama, and he brings an added level of intrigue and complexity to what could otherwise be rote action spectacle. Jack Reacher is primarily a Tom Cruise vehicle, but one that benefits substantially from McQuarrie’s tense, grounded sensibility.
Copyright © 2018 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Paramount Home Entertainment
Overall Rating: (3)
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