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Jack Reacher (2012)

December 29, 2012

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written by:  Christopher McQuarrie (based on the book One Shot by Lee Child) 

produced by: Tom Cruise, Paula Wagner, Gary Levinsohn & Dana Goldberg

directed by: Christopher McQuarrie

rating: PG-13 (for violence, language and some drug material)

runtime: 130 min.

U.S. release date: December 21, 2012

 

Every now and then Tom Cruise will choose to star in a movie that seems a little below his supposed blockbuster pedigree.  I’m thinking of things like “Valkyrie” and “Collateral” and heck, even “Tropic Thunder”, movies that are darker and slightly edgier, and allow Cruise to explore different aspects of his acting abilities.  After the mammoth success of “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol“, “Jack Reacher” would seem to fall in that category, a smaller and more character-based crime thriller less concerned with wild action scenes than with intricate plot twists.

In a slightly uncomfortable reflection of our times, “Jack Reacher” opens with a sniper gunning down innocent civilians on a Pittsburgh river walk in broad daylight.  The police response is swift, and they quickly manage to find the shooter, an ex-Army sniper named James Barr, arresting him with seemingly airtight evidence.  During his interrogation, Barr is completely silent and responds only by writing three words on a notebook: Get Jack Reacher.  A former Army MP, Reacher (Tom Cruise) is a drifter, a lone wolf with no fixed address, no social security number or credit cards, a virtual ghost of a man.  He magically appears at the police station, and quickly teams up with Barr’s defense lawyer Helen Rodin (the excellent Rosamund Pike) to more fully investigate the crime, because, of course, not everything is as it appears, and a grand conspiracy begins to unfold the deeper they look.

 

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Despite the violence-packed previews, “Jack Reacher” is not really an action movie, but more of an evenly paced mystery, as Rodin and Reacher slowly put together the clues, ratcheting up the tension to an explosive finale.  Even a fantastic car chase halfway in is more of an intricate cat and mouse game, with the police chasing Reacher, and Reacher chasing the bad guys.  A movie like this must rely on the acting, and in that regard, “Reacher” mostly succeeds.  The supporting actors are strong throughout, from the always welcome Richard Jenkins as the district attorney, to Robert Duvall as the grizzled owner of a shooting range.  And in a very inspired bit of casting, filmmaker Werner Herzog plays The Zec, one of the most chilling and cold-blooded villains in recent cinematic memory.  He steals every single scene he’s in, and unsettles even the completely unflappable Reacher.

But ultimately this is Cruise’s movie.  Fans of the best-selling Jack Reacher novels by author Lee Child cried foul when he was cast as the titular character, a hulking 6’5” beast, quiet, intimidating and brutally violent.  But for what Cruise lacks in a physical presence, he almost makes up for in a sort of controlled emotional power, dominating scenes with a smoldering and reserved intensity.  The film version portrays Reacher as a sort of unstoppable, ultimate badass, a role that Cruise is comfortable in from his “Mission Impossible”days as Ethan Hunt.  It gets almost silly at times though, like Reacher has figured out everything way ahead of time, and is just smugly sitting around waiting for everyone else (audience included) to figure out what is going on.

I was glad that more attention was played to the plot and characters than to endless gunplay, and was reminded a bit of thinking man thrillers from the 1970s like “The Parallax View”and brooding anti-hero crime pics like “Dirty Harry” and “Point Blank”Director Christopher McQuarrie has worked with Cruise before on “Valkyrie” and the “MI”films, and that chemistry pays off well here.  It remains to be seen if this will be become a franchise ala the “Bourne” series, but “Jack Reacher” is certainly a strong start, a consistently entertaining, if somewhat slight, mystery-thriller.

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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