Title: Jack Reacher
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Screenwriter: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Robert Duvall, Werner Herzog, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo
Screened at: AMC Lincoln Square, NYC, 12/19/12
Opens: December 21, 2012
For a fifty-year-old man in Hollywood movies, Tom Cruise is a cool guy. He’s cool in the role of Jack Reacher, but not in the sense of early James Bond. You could not imagine Jack Reacher making a cappuccino in 30 seconds as Sean Connery can do when playing 007. Nor would he think of telling a bartender that he wants his drinks shaken, not stirred. But Reacher is cool in the sense that he displays emotions only in a low key. He goes after criminals because that’s the way he is, not because he is enraged by what they do, but there are exceptions. One of them appears in the current movie which is based on the ninth of Lee Child’s seventeen-novels’ accounts of the man, and that exception occurs when the bad guys are inflicting pain on people he knows and likes and especially if he had made promises to the victims to seek justice for them.
Fans of the Reacher series—and that circle would include many who pick up crime novels at airports or before going to the beach—are not looking for complex plots or intellectual puzzles. They’re not likely to dig spy movies like “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” They want lots of action, maybe a few women (sex not at all necessary), and a hero who is more like the Lone Ranger than James Bond. Reacher seems to come out of the blue either when called upon for fight for truth, justice and the American way, or when he is intent on fulfilling promises he made to help out his friends when they need his aid. Since Reacher was a highly decorated soldier in Iraq, he knows the importance of loyalty, but what’s unusual about the man, what looks odd to us in the audience if we had never read any of Lee Child’s books, is that though he had left the war with distinction, he has not parlayed that into some corporate job at a desk or even as a guy willing to live in one city for more than a year or so. In fact this mysterious hero has no fixed address, no driver’s license, no passport and has no use for cook books since he does his eating at cheap diners; maybe burgers and fries and coffee, lot of coffee. Why is he a drifter? He tells us midway into the story in the movie’s most philosophic moment.
In this movie, one of the better ones in recent memory as despite being a genre piece it has considerable wit, crisp dialogue spoken by intelligent people. It possesses several twists and turns that you might not see coming. The opening is particularly poignant given the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut in which a disturbed man forced his way into an elementary school killing twenty children ages 5 and 6 and seven adults. We watch as a man snipes with a rifle affixed with a telescope, shooting randomly at mostly young people walking in Pittsburgh, where the entire movie is shot. What’s his motive? Is he simply another psycho who could not possibly have a gripe against people of diverse occupations who just happen to be walking on the same block at the same time? This is perhaps the greatest puzzle, one that gets unfolded about half-way through the drama, yet another maze whose answer that you’re not likely to have guessed.
Tom Cruise has been made up to look like granite, a face that could have been treated with Botox, a short haircut with a clean-shaven back giving the impression that he had recently visited a barber—unusual for a drifter. When Iraq veteran James Barr (Joseph Sikora) is arrested and later awakes from a coma, having been severely beaten by other prisoners, the D.A., Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins) and detective Emerson (David Oyelowo) are certain of his guilt. But when Barr seems ready to sign a confession, the defendant instead scrawls in big letters, “Get Jack Reacher.” Reacher shows up, determined to prove his friend’s innocence even though Barr’s own lawyer, Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike) is sure he’s guilty and simply wants to get the man a fair trial. As an extra twist, Helen is the daughter of the D.A., thought to have taken the job of defense counselor to get back at her dad for whatever reason.
“Jack Reacher,” directed by Christopher McQuarrie, whose script for the more intellectually puzzling 1995 movie “The Usual Suspects” involves five crooks in a police lineup, comes across almost like Tom Cruise’s vanity project (he is one of the producers). His title character appears to have no interest in women (at least not in that way as when he insults a come-on in a bar from Sandy (Alexia Fast) and when, in a motel room with Helen he makes no effort at seduction. But he can fight. He can confidently survive combat with five thugs from the bar, and lucky for them he does not use his war-related skills to break their necks or kill them with one blow to the back of the head. And despite his lack of a license, he can rev up a couple of cars in a Pittsburgh chase, winding through autos that have the nerve to drive correctly in one-way streets.
When Robert Duvall as Cash, proprietor of a gun store, agrees with the usual Robert Duvall style of wit and homey charisma to assist Reacher in taking down a band of bad guys, the latter even agrees to go into the fight with Cash’s rules: no gun for Reacher, only a knife.
Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography is sharp and focused and best of all Kevitt Stitt as editor does not have to work overtime to make the fight sequences seem artificial. We can feel the blows. We watch the fisticuffs straight and focused, the 130 minutes’ duration of the movie flying by like the chopper that’s all but inevitable in this time of a policier.
Rated PG-13. 130 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – C+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+