Tom Cruise’s made headlines again this week (in a good way, mind you), with the release of the trailer for his sci-fi thriller Oblivion (watch it here). However, he will be returning to theaters as soon as next week, when the film Jack Reacher – based on Lee Child’s popular novel One Shot – opens.
Reacher is the potential first installment in a new franchise for Cruise; moreover, it brings Oscar-winning writer Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie, The Wolverine) back into the director’s chair for the first time since his debut on The Way of the Gun 12 years ago – and stands to offer a better idea as to whether or not McQuarrie directing Mission: Impossible 5 is a good idea. So, there’s a fair amount of reason to be interested in seeing how this film pans out.
The central character, an Army vet and military policeman who knows all there is to know about weapons and hand-to-hand combat, possesses the same appeal as classic Western heroes — he’s a loner, self-sufficient, a man of few words who comes and goes without explanation — mixed with a touch of Philip Marlowe’s tough determination to peel back layers of deception and official cant to arrive at a satisfying form of justice. He also is hard as nails physically, as he proves in fight after fight.
In short, he’s a great male fantasy figure. Happily, Cruise plays him with no fuss in a direct, pared-down way with little sense of amped-up intensity or vanity; he can even take a joke at his own expense, as when he’s stripped to the waist in a motel room, andRosamund Pike says, “Could you put your shirt on, please?”
… The actual unraveling of the plot might contain limited surprises, but again, McQuarrie provides satisfactions with the surprise casting of director Werner Herzog as a creepy bad guy, introducing Robert Duvall as a late-appearing key character and setting his action climax at night in a visually arresting quarry that carries the connotations of both a wartime battlefield and an ancient combat arena. The writer-director, whose behind-the-camera skills have jumped considerably since his debut on The Way of the Gun a dozen years ago, delivers the narrative and the visuals with clarity, dispatch and style, aided greatly by Caleb Deschanel’s bracingly sharp cinematography, Jim Bissell’s nuanced production design and on-the-mark editing by Kevin Stitt that never calls attention to itself and helps 130 minutes go by in what feels like less than two hours.
Reacher is a brawny action figure whose exploits would have been a good fit for the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone back in the day, but feel less fun when delegated to a leading man like Tom Cruise. The star is too charismatic to play someone so cold-blooded, and his fans likely won’t appreciate the stretch.
Best case, a role like Reacher would give Cruise another chance to tap into his single-minded “Collateral” killer, but as written, he comes across as more of a weary boy scout, snuffing much of the energy that makes him so appealing. Whereas the hyperkinetic actor looks best on the run, Reacher is a slow-moving, six-and-a-half-foot enforcer — the kind of guy Cruise should be outwitting, not playing… The only pleasure this man takes is in punishing bad guys, and behind this particular scheme lurks a wonderfully evil Werner Herzog, whose rare acting role more than justifies the price of admission for fans of the heavily accented director.
That’s hardly the demo Paramount is aiming for, however. Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie’s challenge ultimately centers on finding ways to distinguish his mostly derivative script, based on the kind of guilty-pleasure read one buys at the airport and leaves on the seat. The setup may be clunky and the character a cliche, but the film looks terrific (courtesy of d.p. Caleb Deschanel), and somewhat redeems its silliness through action, featuring several satisfying hand-to-hand altercations, a tense car chase and a well-staged climactic shootout in a gravel quarry.
Still, enrolling Herzog as the villain is inspired thinking on McQuarrie’s part; that unmistakable Teutonic brogue that’s graced so many of his documentaries elicits multiple shivers when it’s welded to the character of The Zec. A chilling, ruthless creation, with not an ounce of pity in his bones, Herzog delivers his lines with absolute cold-hearted malice. But the trouble is, having crafted one of the most potentially memorable screen villains in recent Hollywood history, McQuarrie’s adaptation never quite gets to grips with Herzog, who almost lurks too far in the film’s background.
… As for Cruise, he may be shorter than the 6ft 5in Reacher of Child’s books – a topic that vexed some fans – but that doesn’t deter from one of his most intense, determined performances in recent memory. From buzzing around town in a red Chevy muscle car to beating up a squadron of guys in a bar brawl, it’s Cruise at his most rough-hewn – even if he does find time for a muted smile when a bus passenger lends him a baseball cap to evade police attention. Prioritising intrigue over body count, McQuarrie keeps the action clean and clinical, even if that troubled finale feels like a Call Of Duty free-for-all.
So, in summation:
- Werner Herzog makes for a terrific villain.
- McQuarrie delivers in terms of direction and staging action/set pieces.
- Cruise doesn’t hold back and serves up a worthy performance… but for some people (including, hardcore fans of the Reacher character), he’s simply going to feel miscast.
Bear in mind, these are but a few reviews for Jack Reacher; hence, the consensus among the great critic community – to mention nothing of average moviegoers – could be strikingly different; though, past experience tells us that’s not necessarily always the case (see: the mixed first reviews for Prometheus this summer). If nothing else, these give us reason to be more excited about McQuarrie taking on Mission: Impossible 5.
Look for Screen Rant‘s official Jack Reacher review when the film opens in theaters on December 21st.