Jack Reacher plays like a procedural with an edge

jack-reacher-movie

Jack Reacher – 2012

Written and Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
Starring Tom Cruise, Jai Courtney, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog, David Oyelowo, Robert Duvall, Alexia Fast

Taking on book franchises can be a tricky business.  One can run the risk of pissing off the fan base even before the movie is released.  Tom Cruise managed to do this by just not looking like the book’s subject.  It seems like a flimsy reason to move away from something, but readers are always the intended crowd for the film makers.  In reality, if you have a series that the readers have stuck with, you can expect that it is likely due to the stories.  In this sense, one can nail a steady audience of viewers by following the most translatable parts of the story onto the screen.  If they do this well enough, they can have the viewers and then even more readers.  It’s a win for the viewers, and a win for those looking to pump out product.

That Cruise has one working franchise is a minor miracle.  The way the first 2 Mission Impossible films turned out, there did not deserve to be a 3rd.  Then Cruise found J.J. Abrams and never looked back.  Upon finding out that he was moving into the role of Jack Reacher, one had to wonder who was stepping into the creative role that Abrams and his team, Orci and Kurtzman filled.  In the case of Jack Reacher, that spot is filled quite well with McQuarrie.  McQuarrie first came into the national consciousness with his script for The Usual Suspects, which netted him an Oscar in 1996.  He’s done some decent work since, including Valkyrie and Ghost Protocol, but he also dabbled in some crap, like The Tourist.  But even the venerable Julian Fellowes was tarred by that one.  His work here is above the latter drivel.  Far above that.

Having not read any of the Jack Reacher novels, I am at a loss to evaluate how well the movie follows the spirit of the book.  What one can say is the movie is smart, unsympathetic and daring.  Several innocent people perish in the first few frames, including children.

Tom Cruise has created a titular character who is hard-boiled, but not seething.  He never lets his passion get in the way of his instinct.  He’s been around many blocks to not comprehend what is expected of him.  His work as an MP lead to a career solving crimes under the blanket of anonymity.  He is kind of a one man A-Team, without the convictions.  He does very few things that do not make sense, so long as we disinclude the stupid mano a mano towards the end.  There is also a fair amount of luck involved when he does make mistakes that help make his character more human if not exactly flawed.

The mystery itself is rather predictable, but the way it is unfurled is entertaining nonetheless.  Some of the cast is intriguing, especially the inclusion of Jenkins, Duvall, and especially Herzog, who makes a rare appearance in front of the camera.  None of the 3 are wasted.  The rest of the cast, including Pike, has a limited appeal.

Jack Reacher clocks in at a lengthy 2:10.  They really could have shaved off at least 45 minutes and still maintained its appeal.  If they make more of these films, my guess is that they will have to be shorter.  We won’t need to know who he is, not that we really care.  As played by Cruise, Jack Reacher is what he wants us to see.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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