What do you see when you look at the picture above? An actor who has passed his action star days? Maybe. I just see Tom Cruise holding a gun… again. Look at how comfortably that rifle is nestled in his hands! It’s like he was born onto a battlefield and the nearest soldier chucked him a semi-automatic, telling him to guard it for the rest of his life. It’s actually quite difficult to name several Cruise movies where he doesn’t — at any point — hold a firearm (and don’t test this; I know I’m exaggerating). But for all the times we do see a gun in his hands, Jack Reacher is the only time he looks like he’d rather not have it. There is a certain reluctance in the way he handles them, and it’s refreshing.
Cruise plays the title character, who is an ex-military police officer in hiding, with a history as colourful as a rainbow (perhaps this is the reason for him wanting not to use guns). It’s the typical “You don’t find him. He finds you” scenario. Except, he turns out to be much less elusive than originally thought. For a drifting military man, he spends a lot of time drawing attention to himself. But never mind. It’s all for the sake of the plot, which despite its vagueness, manages to hold itself together for the film’s two hour and ten minute duration.
The film opens with a white van driving through Pittsburgh. It parks in a multi-storey carpark across the river from PNC Park. The driver pays for parking, assembles his sniper rifle, and then proceeds to gun down five innocent and random people on the opposite bank. This is a great opening scene. Like the rest of Reacher, it takes its time to unfold, and when we are looking through the shooter’s crosshairs as he tracks his targets, the tension is built so well that I assumed any and everyone could be a victim. It’s one of the film’s strongest points. There are several others.
Anyway, the police arrive at the crime scene and are led — by evidence — to the home of James Barr (Joseph Sikora), also a former military man, but he was a sniper who served in Iraq with a knack for killing people. They arrest him with the intention of putting him on death row, and is assigned an attorney, Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike with an average American accent). However, James gets beaten to within an inch of his life by fellow inmates and is placed in a coma. Seeing this debacle on the news, Reacher approaches the DA — Alex Rodin (Helen’s father, played by Richard Jenkins) and the detective in charge of the case, Emerson (David Oyelowo) — with a personal vendetta against James that is never fully revealed till later. But there’s something that needs to be solved: why does James write “Get Jack Reacher” on a piece of paper during an interrogation?
This question drives Reacher to integrate himself into the case, becoming Helen’s lead investigator. We find out that James is one of four types of soldiers; the type who enlists for the thrill of killing. However, after serving for two years in Iraq without firing a single round, he suddenly wipes out a group of several armed men in order to satisfy his hunger. Reacher vows to take him down after his next slip up, and he knows this. So when James asks for Reacher personally, something must be amiss.
To cut a long story short, Reacher and Helen discover that James had been set up by a group of people who wanted a specific person dead in the PNC Park shootout (the other four fatalities were just collateral damage to mask the fact that it was a hit). This same group also begins to assault Reacher from time to time, in an attempt to dissuade him from his investigation. As a result, many hitmen get their heads smashed in, their noses and knees broken, their fingers trapped unforgivingly in the trigger of a pistol, and a sexy young girl dies from a single knock out punch. Ouch. Well… yeah, she is also suffocated.
Where other films of this material would seem worn out and driven by the next action scene, Jack Reacher — as I mentioned earlier — takes its time to tell its story, and I really like that. It’s a crime thriller that’s patient with its thrills. There is no rush to reveal plot elements, nor is there a rush to reach the end. Cruise plays his character straight, as he always does, and the less you know about him the better. He’s so nonchalant about being topless in front of Helen, yet he never kisses her. Fantastic. There aren’t really any other performances that stand out. Nevertheless, seeing Werner Herzog stand and sit and talk with the exact same expression is definitely amusing.
I said that there are several other strong sequences and I wasn’t lying. The car chase is particularly well choreographed (I appreciated Reacher banging into other cars and running up the wall of a tunnel), though it has a rather confusing anti-climactic finish. Also, Reacher tells Helen to interview the families of the five victims, to get a better understanding of who they were. The scene where she reports her findings is a melancholic and poignant piece of film, powerful enough to let even the most gun crazy psychopath know that killing innocent people is a horrible thing.
The movie’s directed by Christopher McQuarrie — who’s better known as a screenwriter than a director — and his control of this big production is clever in that he doesn’t try to do too much; there is more realism in his fight scenes than in most I’ve seen in recent memory. He restrains himself, which only works to benefit the film. He trusts his material to speak out, and I’m glad he does. Jack Reacher could very easily have fallen in the pooper had he tried to overpower the story.
Best Moment | I’m hard pressed to think of one.
Worst Moment | It would have to be the ending of the car chase. Someone, please, explain it to me.