- Rated PG-13
All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
ack Reacher” is a pitch-perfect vehicle for Tom Cruise. He gets to kick ass, show off his analytical skills, maintain the moral high ground, and save the girl. (Oh, come on, I’m not really spoiling anything with that last part, am I?) It seems an odd choice, though, for Christopher McQuarrie. He wrote “The Usual Suspects,” a game-changing crime thriller if ever there was one. “Reacher,” on the other hand, seems rather perfunctory for a guy with his leanings. Why did he sign on to write and direct it? Maybe it was the chance to work with Cruise, and the good fortune that tends to come from that. Maybe it was simply a desire to get back in the game after taking a lengthy sabbatical. Whatever the reason, it worked, at least from a career perspective; McQuarrie is rumored to be the director of the next “Mission: Impossible,” as well as the writer of a sequel to “Top Gun,” like that needs to happen.
At the same time, the story McQuarrie’s adapting, the Lee Child novel “One Shot,” fails him. It might work as a book, but as a movie, it’s too obvious. It’s weird to watch McQuarrie do the obvious thing. It seems beneath him.
The movie begins with a man we only see from behind driving into a parking garage across the river from PNC Park in Pittsburgh, and coolly shooting five people to death with a long-range rifle. The police examine the scene and arrest James Barr, a former sniper in the Army. The district attorney Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins) offers Barr a deal: confess, and you can spare yourself the misery of the hell that awaits you in prison. Barr simply writes, “Get Jack Reacher.” This is somewhat hard to do; Reacher (Tom Cruise) is a former military police officer with no fixed address and someone who has gone to great lengths to stay off the grid. Reacher happens to hear of Barr’s story on the news, and comes to Pittsburgh to help the D.A. convict Barr, since he has seen Barr do bad things while deployed. However, as Jack gathers more information courtesy of Barr’s defense attorney (and daughter of the D.A.) Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), he smells a rat.
This is one of those movies where the killers, as far as the audience is concerned, hide in plain sight. We are privy to their every move against the good guys, and frankly, it kills the suspense; even if we don’t yet know who they are and what they represent – or which good guys they have bought off – we know that there is a conspiracy afoot, and it spoils the fun. You can show the main heavy without revealing too much about his overlords; had they done that, it would leave much more intrigue. As it is, we know the ‘who’ pretty quickly, and all that is left is the ‘why,’ and by the time it matters, it’s little more than a footnote.
This is where the star power of Tom Cruise steps in, Mighty Mouse-style, to save the day. The character of Jack Reacher in Lee Child’s books is larger than life, which makes the casting of the diminutive Cruise even sweeter, because he lures his assailants into underestimating him, and it’s much more entertaining to watch a smallish guy beat up a gang of thugs than it is to watch a guy who is physically gifted coast through a film unchallenged. More importantly, Cruise understands that Reacher is a man of understatement, and plays him accordingly. As action movie performances go, it’s borderline sublime.
Add guys like Jenkins and Robert Duvall to fill in the supporting roles, and you give the audience just enough to overlook the movie’s less flattering qualities. Like, say, Rosamund Pike. She’s probably a lovely human being, but it struck us as curious that in the middle of the movie, the shots of her were suddenly framed around her ample bosom. You get the sense that even McQuarrie, himself a novice director despite nearly 20 years in the business, realized that she needed some “help” to make it through the movie.
It’s funny that the ads for “Jack Reacher” promise a movie where Tom Cruise might play a bad guy, much like Paramount promoted Mel Gibson’s “Payback.” Fools. Tom Cruise has a moral code damn it, and there is nothing that will make him cross it. Having said that, this is as close to seeing Cruise play a bad guy as one is going to get for a while, and he’s damned good at it. Think of this as Tom Cruise’s chance to play a Jason Statham character, and that alone should tell you what to expect.