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Jack Reacher Review

December 21, 2012 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
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Jack Reacher Review  

Directed By: Christopher McQuarrie
Written By: Christopher McQuarrie; Based on the book One Shot and characters created by Lee Child
Runtime: 130 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Jack Reacher – Tom Cruise
Helen Rodin – Rosamund Pike
Alex Rodin – Richard Jenkins
Emerson – David Oyelowo
Charlie – Jai Courtney
Sandy – Alexia Fast
Linsky – Michael Raymond-James
James Barr – Joseph Sikora
Cash – Robert Duvall
The Zec – Werner Herzog

I’m not sure if now is the right time to release Jack Reacher. Maybe the issue won’t matter. The movie, based on a best-selling novel by author Lee Child, opens with a similar crime to the book on which it was based. We see a sniper set up a rifle in a garage and meticulously prepare to open fire on a group of unsuspecting, innocent bystanders. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie shoots the scene in a visceral, effective fashion, as we get a direct view from the killer’s rifle scope as he picks out and eliminates his victims. It’s a disturbing and arresting sequence. The scene was like similar ones depicted before with the Scorpio killer in Dirty Harry but never quite so explicit. I was not offended or put off by the scene; however, in light of current events I can understand why some people might.

And this crisis sets the plot into motion. Five seemingly random people are killed and an army sniper, James Barr (Sikora), is implicated and promptly arrested. Except Barr was not the shooter. Right off the bat, McQuarrie tips his hand and shows the true culprit in the merciless and cold blooded Charlie (Jai Courtney). McQuarrie has crafted his adaptation of One Shot as an inverted detective story much like Columbo or Luther. After Barr is taken into custody, news of the story catches the ear of a an ubermensch by the name of Jack Reacher (Cruise), a retired military police investigator turned drifter who has a history with Barr. Reacher promised to Barr if he did this again he would find him, and in interrogation Reacher was the only person Barr requested to see from the prosecuting District Attorney Alex Rodin (Jenkins) and Detective Emerson (Oyelowo). Reacher is a simple man. He lives off the grid. He has no driver’s license and he opts for purchasing cheap clothes from outlets and dropping off old ones to Goodwill once he’s worn them. With Reacher’s arrival, Jenkins’ daughter, Helen (Pike), who also happens to be the defense lawyer for Barr, convinces Reacher to work as an investigator on the case. However, Reacher is convinced of Barr’s guilt. With some convincing, Reacher ultimately decides to examine the case — provided Helen objectively examines the victims. Eventually, the actual group behind the murders becomes aware of Jack’s presence and tries to take care of him, a fact Jack realizes almost instantly. After looking at the evidence and learning about the victims’ history, Reacher concludes that several things don’t add up and the true purpose behind the murders.

Reacher’s comes off as an anachronistic figure. As a man who grew up in and spent most of his entire life in the military, his life style comes off as slightly anachronistic to his background. You would think a man like Reacher would be used to a sense of structure, organization, and hierarchy rather than living life on the road. Instead, Reacher’s outlook is what he truly sees as freedom. At one point he calmly, but not pretentiously, expresses how he sees Americans trapped and imprisoned by the stress of their everyday lives without shoving it down our throats. This establishes Reacher as almost a type of western-esque hero archetype, a rugged individualist cut from a similar cloth as characters made famous by the likes of Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, and John Wayne.

Not being familiar with the series of Jack Reacher novels written by Lee Child, I can’t say with an informed opinion that Tom Cruise nails the character or that he’s a perfect fit. I know there was great controversy in that in the books Jack Reacher is described as a large, imposing, chunky figure, over six feet tall. I did greatly enjoy Cruise’s performance. His movie star presence and charm worked well for the character. His physicality, even now at 50 years old, is still impressive. Cruise makes this material work really well and he’s clearly having fun.

The villains in the story are rather on the cheesy side. Werner Herzog shows up as a Russian mobster called the Zec. He’s a little cartoony and over the top. He looks like a prototypical Bond villain that got lost in the studio and ended up on the set of a Tom Cruise movie. Zec is pretty much a caricature. I think the real show-stealer and potential breakout star of the piece is Jai Courtney (previously Varro in Spartacus: Blood and Sand) as Zec’s second-in-command and the sniper at the outset of the story. Courtney was great on Spartacus and he’s similarly game here. Along with his upcoming appearance in Live Free or Die Hard, I’m hoping his career is on the rise. The old warhorse Robert Duvall provides a nice bit of dry humor and levity coming in late to the story as a significant key witness in Barr’s case. His scenes and interplay with Cruise are among the most entertaining in the movie.

As a viewer, I personally appreciated and enjoyed the way in which McQuarrie shot this film. McQuarrie definitely likes the slow burn to his action set-pieces. He lets things simmer and build to a fever-pitch. The movie is shot in a very straight-up fashion. The action is practical. There are no big explosions and no CGI. There is no abundance of quick, successive cuts. McQuarrie generally pulls the camera back and lets you see everything, which is nice. The music takes a minimal approach. It very much reminds me of a 1970’s action, Clint Eastwood, or Steve McQueen flick. The car chase set-piece has a nice little creative touch reminiscent of a highly original and impressive car chase getaway in McQuarrie’s directorial debut, the very underrated The Way of the Gun. The style and presentation of Jack Reacher is a welcome change.

The timing of this release could be extremely awkward in light of current events. But hopefully moviegoers will still give it a chance since it is an entertaining action romp and judge the movie on its own merits. The disturbing scene with which the movie opens is lifted directly from the book. I for one am glad that McQuarrie kept the main plot of the novel intact and the studio didn’t scramble to sanitize the movie in the eleventh hour lest we not have another E.T. special edition disaster.

The 411Jack Reacher is a nice throwback to the action-thriller films of old. The movie comes off a little unsettling with the opening, but at the end of the day keep in mind this is still fiction and a world of make believe. Jack Reacher is a drifter with his own set of rules, who will stop at nothing to find the truth and bring his own brand of justice to those who have done wrong. In light of current events, in real life there's not always a neat and logical explanation to such tragedy or a hero who can solve problems through sheer force of will and punching thugs. But isn't that a reason why we watch movies at all? McQuarrie does a great job with his sophomore directing effort, and Cruise does well in playing a force of nature.
411 Elite Award
Final Score:  8.5   [ Very Good ]  legend

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Jeffrey Harris

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