4 / 5 stars
How does Tom Cruise measure up as Lee Child’s bestselling supercop, Jack Reacher? Let’s start with the obvious: Tom Cruise is 5’ 7”. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is 6’ 5”. Yes, it’s been a talking point for fans of the book series ever since Cruise was cast in Christopher McQuarrie’s big-screen adaptation of “One Shot,” the ninth in a series of seventeen (and counting) Reacher novels. But come Cruise’s eventual entrance in the film, you’ll hardly care about his height. Cruise can do this sort of role in his sleep and turns in another commanding, charismatic and entirely watchable performance, albeit with a darker edge than we’re usually accustomed to. (Click the movie poster for a closer look.)
Jack Reacher sees the titular drifter—an ex-military policeman, with no fixed address, phone or commitments—turn up out of the blue amid a cut-and-shut investigation into the apparent random killing of five civilians. Despite all evidence incriminating a former soldier Reacher has previously encountered, the drifter delves deeper into the case only to find all is not as it seems.
With an engaging, twist-filled story, a strong cast and a dark tone, McQuarrie’s Jack Reacher belies its simplistic setup to offer a thoroughly entertaining thriller that serves both as a good cinematic debut for its literary hero and a callback to gritty 1970s thrillers. You’ll find no overuse of CGI or shaky-cam, no painstakingly choreographed fight sequences or bullet-time assisted gunplay, as McQuarrie plays it for realism and Jack Reacher is all the better for it.
The violence is bruising, brutal and immediate with the participants actively trying to injure each other. The shootouts are short and fatal, and the standout car chase is relatively restrained in comparison to those in many modern thrillers. This all makes Reacher something of a unique proposition in the current cinematic landscape and conjures a tense atmosphere that the film rarely lets up. It’s perhaps most comparable to the work of Michael Mann, with Cruise’s performance particularly recalling his underrated turn in Collateral.
Like that film’s Vincent, Reacher is a man of few words, going about his business in an efficient, unfussy manner. Cruise builds an intimidating screen presence that should live up to the character’s reputation, even if the script does throw a few clangers his way with dialogue apparently tailored to the novel’s hulking hero rather than Cruise’s more diminutive frame. The star also handles the occasional dark comedy with aplomb, deadpanning through some of the film’s more amusing moments whilst adding a more human side to the machine-like character. It won’t win him any new fans, and those dead-set against his casting will likely still find issue, but his is a good, un-flashy performance that’s respectful to the spirit of the character.
McQuarrie devotes a fair amount of screen time to Reacher’s investigation, giving the film a slow burn that goes some way toward detailing Reacher’s methods without insulting audience intelligence, something that can’t be said of last year’s other literary super-cop (the woeful Alex Cross.)
The dependable likes of Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo and a scene-stealing Robert Duvall are all in good form while acclaimed director Werner Herzog (left) bizarrely shows up as a shadowy, disfigured antagonist. It’s Rosamund Pike and relative newcomer Jai Courtney who impress the most though: Pike shares some fizzy chemistry with Cruise as the accused’s defense lawyer, and more than holds her own during some expertly handled scenes of high emotion. She imbues the character with an intelligence and strength without ever threatening to devolve into damsel-in-distress territory.
Meanwhile, Courtney makes a suitably formidable counterpart to Reacher, the future son of John McClane bringing a ruthless, cold efficiency to his sharpshooting assassin, particularly during the chilling sniper sequence that opens the film.
At 130 minutes, McQuarrie’s slow-burn pace is perhaps a little too leisurely; the brief histories of the opening victims add some weight to their tragic demise, but offer little towards the film’s driving narrative.
While a borderline slapstick sequence involving Reacher and a couple of bumbling henchmen (the duo even try to enter a doorway at the same time) doesn’t quite fit with the serious tone, this ia relatively minor complaint. Jack Reacher’s long-awaited screen debut should satisfy all but the most cynical Reacher fans.