FILM REVIEW – JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK. With Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Aldis Hodge, Patrick Heusinger. Written by Richard Wenk and Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz. Directed by Edward Zwick. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements. 118 minutes.
Tom Cruise is back as the title character in JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK. Reacher is ex-military police and now just a drifter who gets involved in fighting injustice, and after a brief prologue which reminds us what Reacher is capable of, he shows up in Washington, D. C. to meet Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), who has his old position. However, when he goes to her office he discovers she’s been arrested… for treason.
Something doesn’t add up, and so Reacher ignores instructions to go away and dives into the case uncovering a conspiracy that reaches high into the military. Further complicating matters is the appearance of Samantha (Danika Yarosh), whom the military believes is Reacher’s daughter. Reacher insists he doesn’t have any children, but when “the Hunter” (Patrick Heusinger)–the conspiracy’s enforcer–thinks otherwise, her life is at risk. So after a few fights and chases, Reacher, Turner, and the 15-year-old Samantha are on the run.
In terms of plot, it’s rather pedestrian and you’ll see the big reveal coming a mile away. That isn’t the same as saying that the movie is dull. The action scenes play well, and Reacher is no Boy Scout. When he wants to do serious damage, he doesn’t hold back.
What makes the film different from other action films are its female characters. With both Turner and Samantha, Reacher–a macho loner–has to learn to see things in a different way. At one point they’re holed up in a hotel and have a lead to follow up. For Reacher, the division of duties is simple: he’ll follow up the lead and Turner will “babysit” the teenage girl. Turner, who can be just as tough as nails in a fight, makes it clear that as the officer who has had two people under her command murdered, she’s even more motivated to want to take down the perpetrators than he is. This is no “damsel in distress” for Reacher to rescue.
As for Samantha, her character can be irresponsible but she can also adapt, and Reacher has to consider what it will mean if it turns out she is his daughter. When she takes evasive action late in the film, Reacher knows what’s she’s doing. Why? Because that’s exactly what he would have done.
None of this does anything to make Reacher anything less than the action hero he’s supposed to be. Cruise has Reacher treat these things as add-ons rather than game-changers. He can also learn and adapt. What makes him of a piece with other recent action characters like Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne and Ben Affleck’s “Accountant,” is that he keeps his emotions bottled up. At most he’ll suggest that after surviving a battle to the death with an adversary, it’s not the best time for a conversation.
Smulders is solid as Major Turner, making her secure in who she is, and bouncing back in a fight as much as Reacher. Yarosh’s Samantha can be an annoying character, but also shows the ability to surprise. These two very different women prove to challenge Reacher from opposite directions.
“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is a conventional action film with some unconventional ideas and the star power of Tom Cruise. It should go down easy with its target audience.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released in early 2017. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.