The UnPopular Opinion: Jack Reacher
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
Tom Cruise is an anomaly. Unlike superstars like Mel Gibson and Hugh Grant, Cruise has been able to get by moments of sheer weirdness off screen that would have sunk less powerful Hollywood celebrities. On screen, Cruise has consistently played it safe with variations of the same role over and over again. Despite looking unique, films like OBLIVION, EDGE OF TOMORROW, and the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise are all films catered to Cruise's style and don't require him to stretch his acting muscles as much as he has in projects like TROPIC THUNDER, MAGNOLIA, and even VALKYRIE. Still, Cruise makes a mint for the studios so they will continue to foot the bill for whatever movies he wants to make. One such example is JACK REACHER, an incredibly generic action thriller that adapts a beloved franchise of novels into a less than exciting cinematic endeavor. If anything, JACK REACHER proves once and for all that Tom Cruise has put himself on autopilot and is just making movies that don't require him to do too much
Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who also wrote Cruise vehicles EDGE OF TOMORROW and VALKYRIE as well as writing/directing MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE ROGUE NATION and the impending sixth film in that franchise, JACK REACHER aims to be the anti-Bourne as the title character is an ass kicking patriot who bleeds red, white, and blue and doesn't stand for the mistreatment of civilians. A military police officer and introvert who doesn't fit into the non-regimented world we all inhabit, Reacher is described in the Lee Child novels as a massive guy and a virtual unstoppable force. Tom Cruise not exactly a towering giant but he does exude a badassery unlike most in Hollywood. Cruise is pretty good here as Reacher but I just don't see what the fuss is all about. Full disclosure, I have not read the novels, but this movie just feels like any other action flick out there. If anything, McQuarrie's screenplay cannot decide what tone it wants to follow. Is it grim and dour or is it funny? The film wildly switches and could be the most bipolar movie to come out of a studio in a long time.
As a charater, Jack Reacher is one of the lone parts of the film that is worth watching and that is thanks to Cruise himself, but there is not enough unique about this character of movie to prevent me from getting the same out of any of the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movies. JACK REACHER is slow, riddled with cliches and stereotypical characters that are only elevated by McQuarrie's eye as a director. The movie looks good but that is about it. Watching this film, I often felt as if I was seeing a supercut of other action movies with clips of Cruise peppered in. In fact, that could easily have been what they did. The movie feels like it was Cruise's attempt to justify Christopher McQuarrie getting the ROGUE NATION directing gig. There are easier ways to get your pal a job in Hollywood, but I guess Paramount didn't want to risk hundreds of millions on the director of THE WAY OF THE GUN. Maybe this is why the Edward Zwick directed sequel, JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK, looks superior in every way compared to the 2012 original.
With a cast this talented (Rosamund Pike, Robert Duvall, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Jai Courtney, and the absolutely awesome Werner Herzog), there is no reason for the movie to feel so formulaic. There are 21 novels in the Reacher series, so it would be hard for the series to not become stuck in a rut on the written page, but the first film in what was intended to be a tentpole franchise for a major Hollywood studio needs to be more than mediocre. JACK REACHER never rises above to make us think that it deserves our attention and often feels like the fourth or fifth movie in a long-running series. Forgive my pun, but this movie could have easily been called CRUISE CONTROL and it would have been a far better fitting name for what we see on screen. Maybe this is due to the fact that the book chosen to kick of this series is the ninth story featuring Jack Reacher. Adapting an established tale and retconning it to become the debut for most audiences may be why it doesn't work.
For all the marketing pushed surrounding JACK REACHER, you would have expected a lot more action, but McQuarrie's film is heavy on the talking. There are many scenes focused on Reacher chatting up any number of characters with somewhat stilted dialogue and lines that are funny, but seem to be unintentionally so. For a character designed as an introvert, Cruise plays him relatively the same as he does every character, almost to the point that Reacher feels like a middle-aged look at Maverick from TOP GUN. The only difference that JACK REACHER has compared to other action franchises is the wanton death that pervades the population that Cruise's character comes into contact with. The Bourne franchise certainly has it's share of death, but JACK REACHER often reflects on how the case could have been better served had he not just killed a bunch of guys. The logic in this movie is much more meat-headed and comes off as a film that would have fit in better were it released in the 1980s. Watching JACK REACHER, I wanted so badly to see Cruise in any number of other roles like Remo Williams or a remake of the Chuck Norris MISSING IN ACTION films.
I may be biased against Christopher McQuarrie who tends to run hot and cold with his projects. For every THE USUAL SUSPECTS there is THE TOURIST. McQuarrie is such a skilled screenwriter that it baffles me that he is a stronger director on this movie than writer. I found that MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE ROGUE NATION had some of the same shortcomings as JACK REACHER, but that will be an UnPopular Opinion for another day. JACK REACHER just doesn't work the way that it should. From Joe Kramer's generic score to the workmanlike cinematography by Caleb Deschanel, everything just feels lesser than it should. Even the violence doesn't pack the punch that the trailers tried to amp up. JACK REACHER is a red state JASON BOURNE that is one Budweiser shy of featuring a Toby Keith song over the opening credits. Like the Jack Ryan series of films, some work and some don't, and when they don't they really don't. But, that franchise managed to start out on the right foot and declined from there. JACK REACHER never finds it's footing.
There needs to be more from a movie with a pedigree like JACK REACHER, namely a better movie. Overall, Tom Cruise has sold me on the character but not whether he is worthy of future endeavors. The sequel already benefits from changing everything except for Cruise and should result in a much better finished product, but I will reserve judgement as I thought there was no way the original movie could be so underwhelming. With studios banking on films to become long running series, JACK REACHER needed to be special and not something you would see released directly to Redbox. Had Tom Cruise not starred in this movie I would have very easily seen Nicolas Cage or Bruce Willis in the role as we chocked it up as another forgettable cash grab. That is never what you want to reduce the hard work of a film crew to, but those involved have to care more to make a movie that stands out rather than blend in with everything else.
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