Film review: Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher
Mutual Film Company, Paramount Pictures, Skydance Productions

STARRING Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Robert Duvall, Werner Herzog, Richard Jenkins
WRITTEN BY Christopher McQuarrie (screenplay), based on “One Shot” by Lee Child
PRODUCED BY Tom Cruise, Paula Wagner, Gary Levinsohn, Dana Goldberg
DIRECTED BY Christopher McQuarrie

SHOT BY Caleb Deschanel
EDITED BY Kevin Stitt
MUSIC BY Joe Kraemer
DISTRIBUTED BY Paramount Pictures

Screened 2012-12-13


“A Reacher Round”

This adaptation of the Reacher novel One Shot focuses on the public assassinations of five allegedly innocent civilians and the unraveling of a conspiracy behind it by the military cop Jack Reacher, the man with perfect memory and self-restraint, friend of the working man who has a thing or two to say about how free the average American really is. Reacher is what happens when the best soldier who ever lived meets the disillusioned, drifter Nam vet; in fact, let’s say he’s a curious union of the roles Cruise played in Born on the Fourth of July and Mission: Impossible. The assassinations are pinned on a man named Barr and Reacher quickly teams up with Barr’s astonishingly attractive defense attorney played by Rosamund Pike, whose role primarily consists of being rendered wide-eyed and agape in awe at superman Reacher and his ability to remember things without the aid of a pen. The film’s first half is a largely silent, foreboding montage of procedural cop tropes, Reacher gliding purposefully through crime scenes… though at times you may wonder why the fuck you could be expected to care about his killing time in Pittsburgh bar (I think the entire film takes place in one particular section of the city) or strolling into the local Pep Boys for clues, ever reminded that Reacher can interact with blue-collar “folks” as easily as a migrant laborer (is Cruise running for president or something?). At first it seems like the surprise presence of villain Werner Herzog could considerably lighten the mood, especially when he is punishing a henchman by forcing the man to eat his own fingers, but this novelty will not amuse anybody who does not already find Herzog to be a figure of fun. The truth is it’s a surprisingly dull film with the exception of a few scenes where Reacher violently takes the reins, including a car chase where Cruise (rather impressively, I think) performed all of his own stunt driving.


It appears that Jack Reacher was adapted quite uncritically from One Shot and a franchise of interchangeable paperbacks which are, I imagine, filled with strikingly formulaic dialogue and narrative turns. Modern movie audiences are much in advance of this… which addresses Reacher‘s largest problems: the presence of Cruise and the money behind the project. Reacher should’ve been a smaller, more intimate production with one bravura performance at the core from an unknown workhorse actor, a Viggo Mortensen type who works outdoors and likes to get dirty, and most importantly who loves the work for its own sake. The character of Jack Reacher is the pinnacle of modesty and discipline and while it’s a costume Cruise may like to wear, when he flashes his smug shithead smile it’s impossible to see him as the aimless do-gooder soldier who wanders the land, like a legend. Regarding the money: you keep expecting Reacher to grow in scope, to stage some elaborately expensive and brilliant action sequence, as the overblown score would lead you to expect, but they never come. You are left waiting through wearily conventional, soap opera over-the-shoulder dialogue which director Christopher McQuarrie should really know better than to use by now (McQuarrie could benefit from reading Mamet’s On Directing Film), and which must be playing out the original book’s chapters verbatim. In fact, McQuarrie’s work here feels as amateur as the kind I saw at play in The Lincoln Lawyer, or at least as disjointed as McQuarrie’s early Way of the Gun, a film dabbling in multiple genres and which was surely as difficult to market as this.

Apropos of marketing, I am left baffled when I consider who Jack Reacher‘s target audience is meant to be. More blue-collar “folks?” If these “folks” still get excited by Cruise, they’re absolute suckers. Foreign audiences? Are foreign audiences utterly removed from all media of the past ten years – cinematic and tabloid? Where Cruise still commands? Paramount Pictures rushed the release of Jack Reacher after its success with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol – somehow attributing this success to the presence of Cruise – but would more time have made a difference? My patience with Cruise has runs its course; I made excuses for him for many years, but have grown weary of his commercial ego exercises. It’s one role after another of haughty heroism played by a man who does not appear to be remotely modest. The pity is that he does some quality work in Jack Reacher, nailing a character type in a way that this dully patriotic franchise could’ve easily overlooked. Child himself would comment, “With another actor you might get 100% of the height but only 90% of Reacher. With Tom, you’ll get 100% of Reacher with 90% of the height.” He’s got a point, and the height issue he refers to regards the 6’5″ stature of the titular character in Childs’ books. Yes, 6’5″, an indomitable force (this disparity, thankfully, is not terribly important). It’s unfortunate that Jack Reacher is not an abominable film, just a garden variety piece of dung. Does this mean it is a pile of fertilizer that could be used to grow something of value? This ‘fertilizer’ is the partnership between Cruise and McQuarrie, now quite friendly, who worked with one another in 2008’s somewhat self-righteous and insipid Valkyrie, and who Cruise calls to do rewrites now and then. The pair’s upcoming adventures in superfluity will include M:I 5 and Top Gun 2, where you can already visualize Cruise’s ear-to-ear grin as he and his wealthy friends indulge in more exercises to capture the dollars of working class “folks,” the only ones left capable of being fooled.

written by David Ashley

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