With Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Robert Duvall. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie. Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some drug material. 130 minutes.
JACK REACHER is a smart, action-packed adaptation of one of the novels in a series of thrillers by Lee Child. In spite of the fact that Tom Cruise looks nothing at all like the character in the books, Child must approve as he took a cameo as a desk sergeant here. (And, let’s remember, Humphrey Bogart looks nothing like the Sam Spade of The Maltese Falcon nor did Sean Connery fit the bill as James Bond. Who cared?)
The story is a complex thriller that may make you a little queasy at first as it involves a mass killing of innocent people. In this case, a sniper has murdered five random people in Pittsburgh and all the evidence points to one man who, it turns out, is not the man who committed the crime. During the interrogation he makes one request: Get Jack Reacher.
Who is Jack Reacher? As played by Tom Cruise, he is a smart and tough veteran who worked in the military police and is relentless in his pursuit of the truth. He shows up convinced the cops got the right guy but is asked by Helen (Rosamund Pike), the defense attorney, to investigate further. The more he digs the more he sees that the evidence is too perfect and meant to deflect attention from the real killer and real motives.
Writer Christopher McQuarrie, in his second outing as director, has fashioned a fast-paced and clever thriller. Reacher’s entry into the story is beautifully timed and it is the kind of clever twist that recurs throughout the film. Reacher’s adversaries are equally sharp. The D.A. (Richard Jenkins) pushes suspects to confess or face the death penalty, and is known never to have lost a case. It puts him in an awkward position in that his daughter is leading the defense. Emerson (David Oyelowo) is the cop on the case who seems to respect Reacher, but also sees him as a rogue agent. When the bad guys set up Reacher, Emerson is all too quick to go along. Also in the strong cast are Robert Duvall, as a quirky ex-Marine who runs a firing range, and director Werner Herzog as Zec, the mastermind behind the whole criminal operation.
This is the sort of movie that, thirty years ago, would have starred Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger who – truth be told – much better fit the Reacher of the books. What Cruise offers is not brawn but a raw and savage intelligence. When he is challenged to a bar fight he explains to the five men ready to beat him that he is giving them a chance to walk away before he does serious damage to them. Coming from Schwarzenegger the line would seem a boast. Coming from Cruise it’s a bit of tactical positioning, warning the others that they’re in serious trouble once he incapacitates their leader.
“Jack Reacher” isn’t Oscar material, but it’s a solid and entertaining thriller that will keep you in suspense for much of it, and that relies on logic as much as brute force and fast cars, although there’s plenty of those things as well. If this led to subsequent Reacher films with Cruise – as clearly seems to be the intention – that wouldn’t be a bad thing.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide will be released in January 2013. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.