Review: Jack Reacher
PLOT: When a former army sniper is accused of mass murder, he requests that his lawyer (Rosamund Pike) find a former MP named Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise). Reacher, who’s been living off the grid, without a permanent home or even a driver’s license for the last couple of years, promptly shows up and opens his own investigation. He eventually discovers the truth behind the brutal mass murder, leading him to a nefarious underworld figure called “The Zec” (Werner Herzog).
REVIEW: JACK REACHER is a film I was almost desperate to like. I’m an unapologetic Tom Cruise superfan, having grown up watching his movies. In fact one of the first movies I ever remember watching is TOP GUN, which came out when I was about four years old. I had it on VHS, and wore the tape out by watching it over and over. COCKTAIL, COLOR OF MONEY, BORN ON THE FORTH OF JULY, RAIN MAN, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, LAST SAMURAI, COLLATERAL- his movies are consistently at least good. Given that this teamed him up with Christopher McQuarrie- writer of THE USUAL SUSPECTS, Cruise’s VALKYRIE, and director of the forgotten gem WAY OF THE GUN, this was high on my must-see list.
I wish I could tell you all that I loved JACK REACHER. I did in fact love parts of it. When JACK REACHER is at its best, it’s amazing. But- it’s also one of the most frustratingly inconsistent movies of the year. Much has been said about McQuarrie adopting a low-key vibe for the film, making it seem like a star vehicle from years past. It even opens with the classic Paramount-style nineties font (the type you’d see on a Tom Clancy- John Grisham adaptation). This is a really cool idea, but its schizophrenic, as sure- the action is stripped down, but unlike the movies it follows the pattern of, it’s also bloated and ridiculously over-written.
When a guy tells another “I mean to beat you to death and drink your blood from a boot”, you know this is going for a stylized vibe- which doesn’t jibe with McQuarrie’s stripped down aesthetic. I could forgive this, but the premise doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either. We’re supposed to believe that the baddies are willing to kill five random innocent people in order to cover their tracks- making it “clean”, and averting suspicion, but then- they go ahead and start offing more and more people at random. In that case, what was the point of the original crime, if you’re just going to start killing people left and right, leaving witnesses and making a huge mess? And when the motivation for their killings is revealed, it’s a stunningly simple “macguffin” that’s more annoying than clever.
But- and this is a huge but, when JACK REACHER is good, it’s often great. The opening sniper attack is masterful (if badly timed) ratcheting up the tension in a way that would make Hitchcock proud. And the stripped down action scenes are exquisite. There’s a car chase around the midway point which is one of the best I’ve seen in years. The fights are quick, brutal and realistic- not to mention well shot. The finale is refreshingly free of pyrotechnics, and delivers real honest-to-goodness thrills, pitting Cruise against a handful of trained killers, making way to a great mano-a-mano between him and A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD’s Jai Courtney. Less is more, and McQuarrie seems to know this.
Of course, the film’s real ace in the hole is Cruise. I’ve never read any of Lee Child’s books, and I couldn’t care less that Cruise doesn’t remotely resemble the literary Reacher. He’s terrific as the big-screen iteration, nailing all of his action scenes- making him look more formidable than most action heroes that dwarf him in size. He’s also a damn charismatic actor, nailing the chemistry with the stunning (STUNNING) Rosamund Pike- who must be one of the sexiest actresses working in film today. Approaching fifty, Cruise has lost his boyishness, but he’s gained some grit and weariness, which he puts to good use as Reacher.
The rest of the cast is top notch as well, with Robert Duvall memorably showing up in the last act, and Jai Courtney making a good foe. David Oyelowo and Richard Jenkins are on-board as the stuffed shirts who get in Reacher’s way, and are appropriately smarmy. Of course, the guy everyone’s bound to be talking about is Werner Herzog, playing- well, essentially himself as The Zec, a guy that’s so badass, he once gnawed off eight of his own fingers. Herzog’s a blast to watch, and seems to have fun with his own image.
Still, I really wish JACK REACHER was more lean and consistent. At 130 minutes, it’s bloated. There’s no reason this couldn’t have been a tighter film at around 100 minutes, with so much filler on hand, including a nice, but pointless extended scene featuring Pike visiting the families of the people that are killed in the opening. I’m sure in the book, this was a powerful episode, but in the film- it kills the momentum. There are a bunch of scenes like this.
However, while it may be inconsistent, when it’s good, it’s damn good, making this an easy recommendation, if well-short the rave I was expecting to give. Any Cruise movie is worth seeing, and JACK REACHER has more than enough action to please his fans. I also like the character, and if Cruise and McQuarrie manage to make this into a franchise, I’m on board. I just hope next time; they tighten it up a bit, and ease up of the cheesier bits.