Review: Jack Reacher

Christopher McQuarrie won praise for his screenplay The Usual Suspects in the late 90’s, and his debut directorial effort The Way of the Gun is seen by some as an underrated gem, however it did not open an influx of directing offers to the man. Thankfully he’s back with a vengeance thanks to a burgeoning friendship with Tom Cruise, an actor who sees potential everywhere and always gives 100% to realising a vision.

One Shot, the ninth book in the Jack Reacher series, concerns itself with a sniper who is apprehended after killing five random people on a sunny day in Pittsburgh. Refusing to cooperate with the police, he simply scrawls on a note: Get Jack Reacher. Reacher is an ex-Military Policeman who now travels the USA with no particular goal in mind, going wherever the wind takes him and occasionally busting heads when it’s needed. He is a cross between Rambo and The Hulk, though unlike those two he’s pretty stable emotionally, and a smart investigator who is constantly underestimated due to his size.

There's a blurry girl behind me? I'm Jack Reacher, I won't fall for your trickery!

There’s a blurry girl behind me? I’m Jack Reacher, I won’t fall for your trickery!

As a fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, I was not so much concerned with Cruise’s height in comparison to Reacher’s (with Cruise being 5″7 to Reacher’s 6″5) but more about the way Reacher would be portrayed in the film. The way the character carries himself and his concise method of delivering dialogue; his quirky habits of buying his clothes from cheap stores and only travelling via bus or borrowed cars. Reacher’s only possession is a toothbrush.

Thankfully the film stays true to the spirit of the character, and as with the nature of adaptations, some things are jettisoned to streamline the film, however it’s a pretty faithful adaptation. The film is old fashioned in a good way. There are no explosions, rampant nudity or swearing. The film is not afraid of showing and not telling, most evident in the first fifteen minutes which is completely without dialogue.

Though Cruise’s Reacher is more talkative than the Reacher of the books, you still get the sense that this nomadic drifter lives by a code and will stubbornly keep to it no matter what. Arriving in Pittsburgh intent on ensuring justice is done to the sniper, his keen senses arrive to the conclusion that not all is right with the case, and he decides to stick around to help the defence lawyer, played by Rosamund Pike.

Robert Duvall has a great but brief appearance as a character with sage wisdom and crowd-pleasing humour. The villain, played by famed director Werner Herzog is truly menacing, doubly so when you think just maybe Herzog is not really acting! David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike have thankless roles as Doubters (™), you know, those characters who serve almost no purpose but to doubt everything the hero says. Pike is distractingly beautiful throughout. The make-up crew could have at least made her look like a mortal rather than the celestial angel she really is.

I just want to be left alone to tend to my garden. You understand Robert, don’t you?

McQuarrie’s direction is assured, playful, utilising locales to great effect. The action is short, brutal and to the point, the Reacher way. Although at one point Cruise decides to have a fist fight when there are other alternatives, and the fan in me thinks that the Reacher of the books would simply put a bullet in the bad guy rather than waste energy.

Cruise’s devotion to maintaining realism by doing as many stunts as he can should be commended. Too many Hollywood films have to shake the camera, have extreme close ups and excessive cutting to present the illusion of an actor being in the thick of the action, however Cruise productions can execute action scenes in a more coherent fashion, simply because he’s generally doing the stunt himself.

The only nitpicks are that the music is generic Hollywood action fare, and the film should have been called One Shot. As with nearly all mainstream Hollywood films these days, there are hopes this can be a franchise. Considering the low-key manner of the film, the way it doesn’t hold your hand and features a protagonist who is competent at what he does but is not a superhero, I for one hope this franchise takes off.

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