Title: Jack Reacher
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike (‘Pride & Prejudice’), Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo (‘Red Tails’), Joseph Sikora (‘Safe’) and Robert Duvall
Adapting a popular book featuring a lead character who’s determined to obtain justice into a visually stunning film is not always an easy task. But the new film ‘Jack Reacher,’ which is based on best-selling author Lee Child’s 2005 novel ‘One Shot,’ the ninth entry in his book series about the title character, naturally embodies the iconic nature of the vigilante. Marking screenwriter-director Christopher McQuarrie’s return to helming in the action crime drama genre after a 12-year absence, ‘Jack Reacher’ shows the iconic character’s ambitious motives and fearless fighting against mesmerizing cinematography and production design.
‘Jack Reacher’ follows James Barr, an ex-military trained assassin (Joseph Sikora) who randomly shoots five people dead as they go about their everyday lives in Pittsburgh. When the police, led by Detective Emerson (David Oyelowo), quickly apprehend the sniper, he only asks for Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise), an ex-Army military investigator, who prefers to avoid other people. When Jack first arrives in the city to help the sniper’s attorney, Helen (Rosamund Pike), the daughter of District Attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins), who’s prosecuting the case, he’s convinced of the suspect’s guilt. But despite his belief and his past connection with the believed killer, Jack proceeds with the case.
Easily self-sufficient and hyper-observant, Jack is determined to help Helen win the case, as he’s driven by a keen sense of justice. During the investigation, he finds an unlikely enemy, and uses his bias for violence and strategy to expose the entire truth. He becomes convinced that James wasn’t acting on his own free will and was pushed into committing the crimes with someone with an ulterior motive. After seeking the help of Cash (Robert Duvall), who owns a gun range where the suspect was known to practice shooting, Jack becomes closer to uncovering the truth behind the murders.
Dedicated fans of Child’s ‘Jack Reacher’ book series have questioned McQuarrie’s decision to hire Cruise to play the title character in the action crime drama; the actor bares little resemble to the blond, 6? 5? tall, 250 pound distinctive hero who cares more about obtaining justice by any means necessary, than what people think about him. As Child has said, there aren’t any American actors who fit his physical description of Jack, so McQuarrie had to hire an actor that can embody the internal attributes of the character. The director therefore rightly hired Cruise to portray the lead role, as he truly understands Jack’s ethos and beliefs that those who commit crimes should take responsibility for the things they have done.
While Jack shows up to help Helen build a fair case for her client, confident that he is indeed guilty, Cruise also plays the character as being assured in following his instincts once he begins truly investigating the case. Coming across as determined, intense and matter-of-fact when trying to figure the true nature of the murders, Jack is determined to help Helen, even if it means putting his own life and freedom in danger.
Jack’s relentless, and at times unpredictable, nature is highlighted by the stunning cinematography by Caleb Deschanel and production design by James Bissell. In order to showcase Jack’s dark, gritty nature and determination in trying to uncover James’ reasoning for committing the murders, Deschanel filmed ‘Jack Reacher’ in anamorphic wide screen in McQuarrie’s well-chosen shooting location of Pittsburgh. Combined with Bissell’s sets that appeared as though they were built out of the Industrial Revolution, with palettes of steel, clay and earth tones, the film introduced an ideal American hero in an essential American city.
Second unit director and stunt coordinator Paul Jennings also implemented stunning action sequences throughout the course of the film, particularly with the climatic car chase scene between Jack and Emerson. Jennings tirelessly worked with McQuarrie over a two month period to create a high-speed, gripping chase and collisions to be filmed over a period of five days. Utilizing hiss professional driving experience, aided by him training with a stunt driving expert, the actor fearlessly drove the entire sequence himself without rigs or green screens. Deschanel’s expertly filmed Cruise’s emotions and reactions to Oyelowo’s relentless portrayal of Emerson, who was determined to capture the vigilante.
To showcase the unconventionality of the title character, the film rightfully features the uncommon fighting style, the Keysi Fighting Method. As Jack used the to single-handily style defeat those who dared to cross him, the fighting reflects his brutal training that he acquired during his years in the military. Not only does the self-defense method show Jack’s heightened sense of natural instincts, it also offers some insight into his background and past; it showed that he has regularly fought multiple opponents, and isn’t afraid to use whatever methods necessary to be victorious.
Cruise further proved his commitment to the role of Jack Reacher by training with Jennings and assistant stunt coordinator Robert Alonzo seven days a week for four months, until the fighting style became instinct. Alonzo, who also served as the fight choreographer, designed the battles from a military and tactical background. The realistic method allowed Cruise to naturally react to the movements of his co-stars, instead of executing choreography.
While Cruise skillfully portrayed Jack’s determination to find the truth behind James’ seemingly random killing spree, the film’s continuous focus on his actions and motives unfortunately failed to truly develop Helen’s character and motivations. She seemingly takes James’ case so that she battle against her father in court, but McQuarrie, who also wrote the film’s script, unfortunately failed to show the character’s true humanity to the suspect and his victims. Pike does take an emotional and intellectual approach to Helen’s situation in defending James. However, the lack of true background information about the character and the at-times predictable responses to Jack fail to show the true relationship between the two characters.
Cruise was initially a surprising choice to play Child’s famous literary character in ‘Jack Reacher,’ given his lack of physical resemblance to how the author described him in his famed book series. However, the Academy Award-nominated actor ultimately proved he understood the character’s motives, thoughts and instincts as he committed to finding justice in Helen’s case. Combined with the movie’s stunning cinematography and production design and realistic stunts, ‘Jack Reacher’ overall is a truly intriguing adaptation of Child’s tales of the vigilante’s search for freedom.
Written by: Karen Benardello