Theatrical Review: Jack Reacher

In the city of Pittsburgh, an horrific mass-murder has just taken place. One lone gunman, a former army sniper, has just killed five supposedly random individuals. Thanks to quick police investigation, the shooter is soon found and identified as one James Barr. Before a proper interrogation can take place, Barr has been beaten to a point where he just can’t talk. The detective who worked this all out and the city’s District Attorney try to coerce Barr into writing his confession, but instead, Barr scrawls on the paper this message, “Get Jack Reacher.”

It’s soon discovered that jack Reacher is ex-military police and has basically taken himself off the grid, making himself difficult to locate. That doesn’t matter though as Reacher himself has watched the news,saw what has happened and once he’s seen that the suspected gunman in James Barr, he takes the trip to Pittsburgh. Reacher meets with the police and the DA, but before anything can come of it, Reacher is approached by Barr’s attorney, Helen Rodin, who just happens to be the DA’s daughter. Reacher is convinced to help Helen, and soon discovers that this case isn’t as open and shut as the police and the DA would like us to believe.

That’s the premise to Jack Reacher the latest action/suspense vehicle for super-star actor Tom Cruise. It’s also the second feature film for director and writer Christopher McQuarrie, who’s prior feature was The Way of the Gun with Ryan Phillipe and Benicio Del Toro and a film that I enjoy very much. McQuarrie is better known as the writer for Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects and another Singer/Cruise movie, Valkyrie which I also quite enjoy. In addition, McQuarrie was the creator of a short-lived series on NBC, Persons Unknown which had strong echoes of the classic TV series The Prisoner, and again, something that I enjoyed a great deal.

Jack Reacher is based around a book by author Lee Child called One Shot which in itself is part of a series about Reacher. I wasn’t aware of this before and I certainly haven’t read any of Child’s books, though I’ve heard that the character himself is quite a bit physically different from Tom Cruise. When I first saw the trailer for Jack Reacher, after doing the obligatory bad joke (“Reacher? I don’t even know ‘er!”), I thought that it looked pretty run-of-the mill, but I like Cruise and I mentioned my appreciation of McQuarrie’s prior works above, and so I was interested in seeing it. For me anyway, this turned out to be mixed bag.

I actually think the plot is a terrific idea and on a technical level, the film is beautiful. The first few minutes of the film which sets everything up with no dialogue at all is quite riveting and has you paying attention to the details. The way the film is shot, it emphasizes strong visual storytelling and it’s all punctuated with a terrific score from composer Joe Kraemer. On the down side in the technical aspects, this runs a little too long and could’ve easily benefitted by having about 15-20 minutes cut and/or shaved from the movie. One of the best scenes in the film, a terrific car chase that echoes the movie Bullitt, is hampered by a terrible ending, which has Reacher walking out from the moving car and then sauntering over to the crowd to blend in- it goes for a cheap laugh, but it’s hardly what really would happen in this situation.

Where the film really falls a part for me though is with it’s main character, Jack Reacher, himself. Reacher comes into this as a total enigma, but seemingly, he has all the answers and just projects an air of invincibility. There’s nothing wrong with that if your character is handled in a bit of a mythic way, but that’s not the case here, as Reacher is pretty quick to make his comments, have all the answers right in front of him and do it all without raising a sweat. He’s pretty much a costume short of being Batman and that, to me anyway, just doesn’t seem to fit here. Cruise is certainly intense in the part, but it all just seems a little too one-note in his intensity.

As the movie progresses, Reacher is sort of sexually “teasing” Helen Rodin, who we believe is supposed to be a competent attorney, but thanks to Rosamund Pike’s performance is pretty wide-eyed and acts like it’s her first day on the job. I’ve liked Pike in other films and I figure she’s doing what’s asked of her here (and she looks terrific), so I don’t want to come down to hard on her, but this part doesn’t exactly do her any favors.

Richard Jenkins and David Oyelowo play the DA and Emerson, the detective who works this all out, respectively and both are extremely solid in their parts. Less so are director Werner Herzog, who plays actor here as the villain of the piece, known as The Zec, and Robert Duvall, who’s brought in late in the game as Cash, the owner of a shooting range that Barr has frequented in the past. There’s a lot of promise in Herzog’s villain, but unfortunately, he’s only given a couple of scenes in order to play that out and it just doesn’t come together for me as it should. Duvall, it just seems to me is brought in to play another one of his “folksy” type of parts. That’s not meant as derogative, Duvall’s done great work in the past with these parts, but here he’s just played a little too fast to be convincing as the type of person who’s going to just go out and help Jack Reacher based on Reacher’s word alone.

I thought Jack Reacher was certainly watchable in the end, and I certainly admire the fact that McQuarrie is trying to make something here that echoes movies of the 60s and 70s, but due to it’s characters, it just didn’t satisfy me the way that it should. Reacher’s invincibility just doesn’t leave this open to any sort of suspense or any sort of real danger for it’s main character at all. As I said above, I haven’t read any of the books, and so I don’t have any sort of affection or prior knowledge of them. If you’re a fan of the series, then this very well may be satisfying for you but for me, I thought it was only average at best and think there’s better things out there right now that are more compelling to see.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

23. December 2012 by Darren Goodhart
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