Jack Reacher, a six foot five, two-hundred and fifty pound former United States Army Military Police Major with blonde hair, bares little physical similarity to actor Tom Cruise (they both have blue eyes) but that didn’t stop the fan-favorite star from signing-on for the character’s big screen debut. The Cruise casting set off a firestorm of fan backlash, as faithful readers of the Lee Child source novels dismissed the production as a Jack Reacher adaptation in name alone.
However, it wasn’t long before the author endorsed Cruise in the role, claiming that despite their physical differences the actor would successfully bring Reacher’s intensity to the screen. Does Cruise, along with writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (Usual Suspects), deliver an enjoyable Jack Reacher adaptation – a film that will win over skeptical fans of the book series while also serving-up a fun crime drama for less familiar viewers?
Fortunately, the answer is yes. There’s no doubt that some Jack Reacher die-hards will scoff at Cruise in the role and find the actor an unsuitable flesh-and-blood stand-in for their beloved fictional character; regardless, despite the difference in physical appearance, Reacher is still enjoyably tough and stoic. It’s not always easy to see past Tom Cruise in the role, but the actor brings a quiet charm to Reacher that fans of the books will recognize – while offering plenty of enjoyable action beats for viewers who turn out just to see Cruise punch thugs in the groin and crash muscle cars.
The story, adapted from Child’s 2005 novel, One Shot, serves as a smart (albeit often predictable) introduction to the character – and a promising start for a Cruise/Reacher franchise. After a sniper claims the lives of five victims on a sunny day in Pittsburgh, PA, Jack Reacher is brought in to investigate the District Attorney’s primary suspect. However, when Reacher crosses paths with Helen (Rosamund Pike), the defense attorney for the accused, the pair are pulled into a dangerous multi-layered conspiracy that threatens to claim their lives and bury the true killer’s identity.
It’s a serviceable setup that allows for a few intriguing turns, and moments of shock for moviegoers – but viewers who typically stay ahead of the plot and are actively considering the evidence in an attempt to solve Jack Reacher‘s mystery ahead of schedule will likely predict many of the intended twists. Nevertheless, McQuarrie (whose only prior directing credit is the 2000 film, Way of the Gun) offers slick style and sharp filmmaking choices which elevate the competent (but unremarkable) core storyline above similar middle-of-the-road crime dramas.
The trailers for Jack Reacher depict the title character as a no-holds-barred, butt-kicking wheel man with a one-liner for every occasion. Interestingly, Cruise and McQuarrie’s actual Reacher is significantly more nuanced and restrained. Fans of the books will see loads of hard-hitting and downright brutal fisticuffs, but Cruise sells his version of the character through Reacher’s most important characteristics: confidence, smarts, and patience. Like many recent Tom Cruise roles, it’s sometimes hard to be completely immersed in Reacher, the character, given that the actor is (mostly) playing a variation of his typical action man persona – but that doesn’t detract from the potential enjoyment, as Cruise presents a satisfying mix of savage and amusing moments in the role.
The rest of the cast is serviceable – even if nearly everyone else is primarily there to look at Reacher with some variation of shock, suspicion, awe, or (if you’re one of several women in the first 20 minutes of the film) sexy eyes. Helen (Rosamund Pike) is a solid counter-balance to Reacher, given that she has hidden behind the law for much of her career and has rarely been forced into face-to-face interactions with victims or criminals. As a result, she’s a decent guide into Reacher’s world of ruthless delinquents and broken lives – even if Pike, as an actress, is typically overshadowed by Cruise.
As mentioned, while much of the supporting cast is relegated to one-note or expository roles (with the exception of an entertaining Robert Duvall appearance), the main Jack Reacher villains are surprisingly fun and downright disturbing. Charlie (Jai Courtney) is a great foil for Reacher - an adept marksman who is equally deadly in hand-to-hand combat. While Courtney isn’t provided room to develop the character, he enjoys some of the most memorable (and disturbing) scenes in the film – bringing a truly dangerous antagonist to a story that could have otherwise seen Cruise punch his way through a never-ending set of generic thugs.
Equally rewarding is Werner Herzog as “The Zec,” the shadowy and repugnant mastermind that holds Charlie’s leash. Herzog isn’t provided with a lot of screen time, but each of his appearances carry an unexpected amount of gravity (especially when compared to some of the film’s over-the-top action beats).
The Zec is not entirely out of place in the larger plot, either, as Jack Reacher deals with some intense subject matter and includes several cringe-inducing moments. In spite of its charming lead, the film is especially dark for a PG-13 rating. It’s a credit to McQuarrie’s script (he is an Oscar-winning writer, after all) that most disturbing violence is implied, not outright shown – a smart move that allowed the filmmakers to establish the stakes without bogging Jack Reacher down in on-the-nose carnage.
Jack Reacher falls short of delivering a must-see crime drama experience, but it’s hardly the cash-grab misfire that skeptics were anticipating. An intriguing core story premise and captivating villains contribute to a solid launching point for a new Tom Cruise-led franchise. Faithful followers of the Lee Child novels may cry foul since, like most recent Cruise starring films, Jack Reacher is primarily a frame for the fan-favorite actor to flex his (noticeably aging) action muscles – but that doesn’t mean the film fails to satisfy with plenty of excitement, charm, and head-stomping.
If you’re still on the fence about Jack Reacher, check out the trailer below:
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Jack Reacher is Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some drug material. Now playing in theaters.