Old School Reacher a Tough, Intelligent Thriller
Former Army sniper Barr (Joseph Sikora) has allegedly gone insane and shot five people. The lead investigator Detective Emerson (David Oyelowo) and Pittsburgh District Attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins) are positive of his guilt, the evidence against him too massive to ignore. They offer the sniper a deal: confess and live out the rest of your life in prison or refuse and be faced with the death penalty.
Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher © Paramount Pictures
The accused doesn’t say a word, doesn’t ask for anything, doesn’t try to proclaim his innocence or accept his guilt. Instead, he writes down a single statement, “Get Jack Reacher.”
Thus begins Jack Reacher, writer and director Christopher McQuarrie’s (The Way of the Gun) adaptation of Lee Child’s One Shot with superstar Tom Cruise playing the popular titular hero. What unfolds next is a robust, intelligently plotted, aggressively executed potboiler of subterfuge and honor, all of it whirling around a character who believes in justice first with all else nothing more than a secondary concern. A loner who lives off of the grid and sticks to a hardened moral cold cemented into him during his military service and years traveling the globe learning its cultures and ways, Reacher doesn’t mince words and doesn’t back down. He’s an old school hero, a Western archetype in a digital age, and while his methods aren’t pretty he gets the job done nonetheless.
The twist as far as this particular story is concerned is that Reacher arrives to bury Barr, not to save him, and it’s only through the prodding of the man’s attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), the DA’s estranged daughter, that he even agrees to take a fresh look at the evidence, his mind already made up because of Barr’s past misdeeds. But being the driven investigator that he is when he uncovers facets of a massive conspiracy separating the sniper from the crime and implicating others his focus shifts, his anger over the situation only quelled by his belief justice must be done.
For those unfamiliar with the book it would be unfair to say more, and while the twists and turns aren’t entirely surprising there is some fun to be found in deciphering the whats and the whys behind the horrific sniper attack on Pittsburgh’s unsuspecting citizenry. McQuarrie’s script is unfussy and stripped down, the filmmaker keeping things as focused as possible wiping away any unnecessary filler or fat. By and large no scene feels out of place or doesn’t propel the plot forward, seemingly innocuous moments between Reacher and a frazzled auto parts employee (Alexia Fast) having far more importance than one might initially surmise.
If anything the movie is as retro and as analog as its hero. It feels like a Walter Hill film from the late ‘70s or early ‘80s, certain elements recalling classic hard-hitting thrillers like The Driver or 48hrs, and that includes the comedic elements inherent in both pictures. It’s all classily photographed by the great Caleb Deschanel (Fly Away Home, The Right Stuff) and meticulously edited by Kevin Stitt (Breakdown), their superb work culminating in an adrenaline-fueled car chase through the streets of Pittsburg that’s downright spectacular. The pieces fit together with precision, McQuarrie taking Childs’ story (the ninth of 17 Jack Reacher novels) and doing nothing short of wonders with it.
That’s a bit of hyperbole on my part, Jack Reacher not without its sillier aspects or problem moments. As great as it is to see Cruise and Robert Duvall working together again after 22 years apart (they were in Days of Thunder), the latter’s appearance at the end is a bit nonsensical, and if not for the pair’s superior chemistry there’s no chance at all this turn of events ever would have worked near as well as it ultimately does. Additionally, Reacher’s approach to solving the case ends up being a little more simplistically vulgar than it maybe needs to be, and while there is a cathartic thrill to be found in his single-minded ferocity the John Wayne meets Arnold Schwarzenegger meets Clint Eastwood finality of it all does seem slightly, only slightly, out of place.
But as problems go these feel relatively minor. Pike makes for a winning sidekick, Duvall’s appearance made me want to applaud and the inclusion of revered director Werner Herzog as the villainous force propelling events forward is close to genius (he’s awesome). The fight scenes, all three of them, provide a visceral kick that is undeniable, while as I’ve already stated that signature car chase is one of the best I’ve seen in quite some time (echoes of The French Connection, Bullit and Ronin more than intentional).
While much has been made that Cruise does not fit the physical description of the character as provided in Childs’ books, internally he is flawless. I believed him as Reacher for every second of the film, a sequence inside a bar as he calmly, with more than an ounce of exasperation, tries to convince a gaggle of youthful toughs from picking a fight with him, a fight he knows they’ll lose, saying everything we need to know about the man and does it in precious few syllables.
I’m not sure what general audiences will make of Jack Reacher but a large part of me can’t hope it’s a hit. Devoid of CGI, absent of otherworldly stunt work that defies credulity and was obviously in some way faked, the movie is a return to action-thriller esthetics of a bygone age, McQuarrie making a movie for mature audiences that doesn’t belittle their intelligence or ask them to suspend belief too far outside the norm. It’s quality entertainment, and I for one can’t help but hope that Cruise and company get the opportunity to return to this well again.
- Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: êêê (out of 4)