Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie (screenplay), Lee Child (novel)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins and Werner Herzog
Tom Cruise, despite his kooky off-screen shenanigans, is a reliably lively screen presence. He is a relentlessly physical actor, which is why franchises like Mission: Impossible have become his bread and butter. With Jack Reacher he attempts, with varying degrees of success, to heighten his on-screen persona into that of a morally vague vigilante.
Reacher is a solid R-rated (or at least it should be) detective story based on a popular series by Lee Child. Christopher McQuarrie, who adapted the script as well as directed, has some nice action set pieces to work with, but the movie is mostly built around making the star look good. Action stars like Cruise, like the many cars his character here drives, are fast becoming vintage in the CGI era. Here he is a blunt, no-nonsense “drifter,” a man who comes to the aid of those who need him and deals out justice how he sees fit.
Dirty Harry fantasies aside, this movie is standard action fare, if a bit more brutal. A harrowing opening sequence pays homage to the original Harry movie, with a POV shot through a sniper rifle as it traces over an area outside a ballpark before shooting five people. This scene shivers with dread and suspense, not just because of effective filmmaking but also because of the recent plague of mass shootings. As the crosshairs lingered over a little girl (thankfully before moving on), the audible gasp from the audience called to mind the recent Newtown massacre, the effects of which are obviously still echoing through the country.
Of course you can’t really blame a movie for bad luck or timing, and Jack Reacher has plenty to answer for outside of that somewhat disturbing sequence. Outside of some well-written dialogue exchanges and a terrifically maniacal villain played by Werner Herzog (yes, you read that correctly), it is a standard macho action narrative that condescends to any female who might deign to grace the screen. It fulfills rescue fantasies even as it pretends not to. Reacher claims to not be a “good guy” then goes through the added trouble of rescuing “the girl” (Rosamund Pike) from Herzog and company.
What ultimately gives the movie value is the quality of the filmmaking, how it balances detective story intrigue with the occasional well-done action set piece. For a movie that clocks in at well over two hours it is rarely boring. Pike, for all the story’s attempts to reduce her to a cliche in the third act, is actually presented as an intellectual equal for most of the movie even if she isn’t allowed in on the action fun. Her character, a lawyer tasked with defending the accused sniper from the beginning sequence, and Reacher unravel a bizarre but nonetheless engaging conspiracy plot. Though the movie carries a lot of unwanted Hollywood cliches, poor storytelling thankfully isn’t one of them.