Review: 'Jack Reacher' is Too in Love with the Jack Reacher Character
by Jeremy Kirk
December 21, 2012
The people behind Jack Reacher, the new film written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie and based on the novel by Lee Child, sure wanted the character to be iconic from frame one. Casting Tom Cruise, as A-list as you can get these days, was a good first step. Unfortunately, the status building and impressive feats of super-intellect do very little in making the Reacher character one for the ages. All that's before the action even kicks in, and the film suffers, turning what could have been a slamming good action movie into a dull, aimless, overly predictable detective story. At least Cruise is still cool in the role. Read on!
Reacher is a drifter, a former Military Police Major with ambiguous loyalties who spends his more recent times sitting on a beach and enjoying life, but when a sniper fires on and kills five innocent people, and the man accused for the killings is a former army sharpshooter, the drifter comes to town to sort out the details. Naturally, the most exciting way to do this is to work with the sharpshooter's attorney to help build a strong defense. If only there were some dark figures lurking in underpasses and alleyways that aren't too keen on Reacher asking too many questions. That would get the action really kicking in, and it does.
It isn't that Jack Reacher is more "Law and Order" than "24" when it comes to the story's pace that makes the film so dull. That the first action sequence in the film - after the unnerving opening shooting, especially characterized as such in light of recent events - isn't until nearly an hour in doesn't inherently divert our attention elsewhere. That the knock-on-doors/sit-in-rooms/chat-with-people structure offers us nothing of interest save for catching us up on "twists" we saw coming from the opening scene does cause the attention to be diverted elsewhere. Maybe to something minute like the lighting or sound effect design. The former is fine. The latter needs work.
McQuarrie based the screenplay on One Shot, the 9th of 17 Jack Reacher novels Lee Child has written, so the character was good and established with literary fans of the character. But beginning a presumed franchise with this character requires a little more than constantly showing us how quick-witted, charming, and pretty much perfect he is. McQuarrie is clearly in love with the character, maybe to a fault. At one point in the film, Reacher writes a proposed motive for the shootings on a folded piece of paper about 30 seconds before the attorney, played with aimless gazes to match the story by Rosamund Pike, figures it out. The scene plays out as such just to show us once again that Reacher is ALWAYS one step ahead of everyone else. Just when you think someone might have gotten one over on the man, he gives a Tom Cruise smirk and clever screenwriting puts him right back in the controlling seat.
It plays hell on your attempt at suspense when the protagonist is this infallible. Even with James Bond, you feel the shades of gray that permeate the character, especially in his latest incarnation. At the very least, though, Bond has 23 films behind him to build that level of infallibility. This is our introduction to Reacher, so give us something deeper than perfection. Rarely does Reacher make a mistake, and when he does, it's generally played for laughs. Sadly, that aspect is where McQuarrie's writing and directing hit their best meeting point. The timing for Cruise's quips are spot-on, and most of them are at least amusing.
The action is better than you average actioner, as well. McQuarrie knows how to frame solid action, loves to move the camera in and out of the excitement, and the steadiness of it all does a great job in letting us see the bigger wow moments. Seeing Cruise really behind wheels of the vehicles he's spinning around on the pavement in puts a heightened quality to the action that plays differently than real suspense. It's fun and oftentimes even exciting. The knees and elbows the character throws are fast and hard, and if it isn't Cruise throwing every one, the editing is doing a damn good job making it appear as such. There's just too much dull downtime before and between the excitement.
Credit to Cruise on more than a physical or stunt aspect, though. His sheer presence does more for Jack Reacher than anything McQuarrie puts in his screenplay. Cruise still convinces he's a perfectly capable action star. It takes him a while to prove it with actions, and his menacing looks in the first half of the film aren't enough keep the film as a whole from grinding to a halt. The supporting turns are interesting at the least with Werner Herzog playing the cliched, disfigured villain who hides in the shadows, while Robert Duvall gives it his all as the commonplace old curmudgeon who seems to be the only person who Reacher actually likes.
Between its cast and crew, Jack Reacher had the potential to be either a highly engaging procedural or a full-on, charged action piece. Liberties with Child's novel could have been made, and since I haven't read it for myself, I can't say whether liberties were taken. Child likely built Jack Reacher as the perfect hero, even though he says right out, "I am not a hero." The moral ambiguity in Jack Reacher the film only comes up once or twice in the film, each with an attempt at weight that simply isn't there. Instead, McQuarrie doesn't create a perfect hero or anti-hero, if that suits Jack Reacher better. The writer/director has given us an empty character who can do no wrong, and though the solid action and Cruise's engrossing performance help, they don't get the job done.
Jeremy's Rating: 5.5 out of 10