Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher.
When Tom Cruise was cast in the role of Jack Reacher, there were some complaints from fans of the books. It seems that Reacher, as described in print, is 6 feet five inches tall and 250 pounds. A far cry from the diminutive Cruise. Lee Child, the creator and author of the 17 (and counting) Jack Reacher novels, approved of the casting, saying that Reacher's size was meant to be a metaphor for his unstoppability and that "With another actor you might get 100% of the height but only 90% of Reacher. With Tom, you'll get 100% of Reacher with 90% of the height." As someone who's never read any of the books, I can't speak to how well Cruise represents Reacher of the novels, but I can say that he manages to create, not a perfect action hero, but at least an entertaining one.
There's an old school feel to this story. The lead suspect in a random shooting spree served in Iraq, but he could just as easily have served in Vietnam. Jack Reacher is a former MP, now a drifter, who knows dark things about the suspect's past. He comes to town, not to defend his former acquaintance, but to ensure that's he prosecuted. However, when the evidence doesn't add up, or rather, when the evidence adds up a little too well, Reacher becomes suspicious and starts digging into the mystery a little more closely.
Reacher is a bit like an old cowboy. He blows into town, defends a girl's honor while beating up the bad guys. He's more likely to settle a score personally than waste time taking someone to court. He's good with his fists as well as his guns and he rides a Mustang, only it's the muscle car variety instead of the four-legged kind.
There's one scene in particular that feels more like the 1970s than a modern film. When Reacher is being chased by the police because he's been framed for a murder, he ditches his car and blends in with a crowd waiting at a bus stop. The crowd immediately, without knowing what he might have done, hides him from the Police and helps him escape. During the 1970s antiheroes were much more popular than they are today and thumbing your nose at “the man” was more acceptable. It seems unrealistic that it would happen the same way today.
Like too many movies this year, this one does run long. It's over two hours and there's definitely room for some trimming and tightening. They mystery is fairly obvious and you'll probably guess the real reason for the murders before it's revealed onscreen. When there is action, it's well filmed, but too often there are long gaps in between those scenes.
The other weakness to the film is that despite the action, there's very little tension. Reacher is unstoppable and never in any danger. While this is true in 99.9% of all action movies, the trick is to at least pretend the hero is in danger, or to make him pay a price, whether it's the death of a loved one or the loss of something else, before he finally triumphs. Here though, Reacher is in command from start to finish. He never loses a fight or suffers a loss. He sails through this adventure and ends it exactly as he started it.
Maybe this isn't the Jack Reacher of the novels, and I can't say it inspired me to want to read the books to find out, but for an action movie, it fits the bill. Not a classic by any means, but entertaining enough.
Rosamund Pike and Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher
Tom Cruise is a very competent actor and while I have never read the books his performance is based on, I do understand how the fans of the books could be disappointed with him in the role. Jack Reacher is mentally and physically confident. He faces down five men in a fight with all the ease of someone ordering French fries at McDonalds. At 5'7", Cruise is anything but a physical threat. Granted, the film goes to great length to never show him as shorter than anyone else and he goes shirtless in one scene to exhibit his exercised physique. A less than average height on a person in such a badass role implies he is out to prove something, both the character and the actor.
I agree with Scott that it definitely feels like an old school detective film. The inner city car chases are straight out of the 1970s. As presented in this movie, I did not see Reacher so much as a drifter but as someone merely living purposely off the grid. He does not own a car or cell phone. He actually has to find pay phones to use. More is implied than actually stated as to why he does that, but it certainly gives him the feel of a man who does not trust governments or society. This also harkens back to such 1970s iconic movie characters as Billy Jack, only Jack seemed quite politically liberal while Reacher seems far more conservative.
As Scott wrote, the mystery is fascinating but the film walks us so slowly through it all that we catch on far sooner than the plot should have allowed. Right from the start we are shown that it is a set up by showing the shooter not looking anything like the suspect. The quarter into the parking meter is made an obvious point by the director early on, yet Reacher makes it his big piece of WTF evidence more than once. Every time he made the point that the shooter would not have fed the meter I groaned to myself, "We know already! What else have you got?"
Far worse than believing Tom Cruise is a tough as hell, physically imposing, no nonsense detective, is the script and direction. Both were the responsibility of Christopher McQuarrie, who directed and wrote the screenplay. The only character worth getting to know is Reacher, yet we learn very little about him. Helen has some Daddy issues but why should we really care? It is not as if Reacher is going to settle down with her. How exactly does Reacher get Cash, the old man at the gun range, to risk his life for him when they have only just met? I had zero emotional invested in a film where the goal was to clear a murderer from some other murders he is accused of.
Scott noted that Reacher is never really in danger and although that is a script weakness, it was not the film's biggest flaw for me. There is today and has always been a segment of our society that does not trust our government and fears a complete loss of privacy with our computers being hacked and our cell phones being tapped. The character of Reacher could easily gain a cinematic following just as Billy Jack and Rambo did. Living outside of society has a romantic tone to it as well as a sense of rebellion. Billy Jack did it so he could do drugs and screw a hippy while Rambo was shell shocked. Reacher seems more autonomous because he has learned or experienced something that makes him leery of the powers that be. That needed to be explored so we, the audience, would actually care about what happens to him. Unlike Scott, I am curious to pick up one of Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels.
Tom Cruise and Robert Duvall in Jack Reacher.
Tom Cruise is an adrenaline junkie. On his films he insists on doing almost all of his own stunt work. He famously repelled down the world's tallest building for the recent Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and in this movie he did all of his own stunt driving as Jack Reacher. The scene where the car stalls actually happened. Cruise stayed in character and eventually got the car restarted. They left it in the shot because it was one of those rare serendipitous mistakes that adds to the realism and tension of a scene.
This is a fairly run of the mill action flick. As a Tom Cruise vehicle it works well enough. At 50 he can still effortlessly pull off the heroic action star. For all of his incredible success over the last 30 years, he still seems as ambitious and hungry as he ever did. He will be to his generation what John Wayne and Clint Eastwood were to theirs. Quite simply the biggest male action hero.
Although Cruise dominates the movie he does get some impressive help. The supporting cast contributes to the enjoyment level. Rosamund Pike holds her own against Cruise in the female lead, although she winds up being just another damsel in distress needing to be rescued by the star at the climax. 2012 was a breakout year for David Oyelowo. He began it with the starring role in George Lucas's WWII movie Red Tails and this past summer was in Lee Daniels's The Paperboy. Appearing in a big Tom Cruise action flick isn't a bad way to end the year.
The cast also boasts two authentic movie icons.
Legendary German director Werner Herzog plays a truly disturbing villain. A man who chewed off his own fingers in order to survive certain death from gangrene while in some hell hole of a prison. Although he is much more revered as a director, Herzog has tried his hand at the occasional acting role over the years. He brings a certain gravitas to the role of the demented bad guy known as The Zec.
This movie was a reunion for Tom Cruise and Robert Duvall. They first worked together more than 20 years earlier in the race car drama Days of Thunder. They make a good team and it's nice to see Duvall (who is now well into his 80s) still in the saddle after all these years. Very few stars have walked the line between leading man and character actor as successfully as Robert Duvall. The number of truly classic movies he's appeared in over the last half a century is quite staggering. Here is just a partial list; To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Bullitt (1968), True Grit (1969), MASH (1970), The Godfather (1972), The Godfather: Part II (1974), Network (1976), Apocalypse Now (1979) and The Natural (1984). He has been Oscar nominated 6 times, winning for Tender Mercies in 1983. With Jack Reacher he proves himself to still be a vital actor, one who plays cantankerous old codgers with a heart of gold better than anyone.
Jack Reacher may not be particularly original or fresh but with a cast this good it rises above its conventional formula.
Photos © Copyright Paramount Pictures (2012)