A smart and engaging if formulaic mystery-thriller, Jack Reacher defies fan expectations and a terrible title to satisfy to a surprising degree.
Based on the 9th Jack Reacher novel One Shot by Lee Child, Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) tells the story of a former military police investigator who is called in by a former Army sniper accused of multiple murders. Aaron Burr ( Joseph Sikora), the sniper, is beaten into a coma while in police custody before Reacher arrives and he is left to piece together why a man he believes is guilty would enlist his help. The case looks open and shut but there is something off about the details and when Reacher is attacked in a bar set up to get him arrested, he decides to help defense attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), who is the daughter of District Attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins), dig deeper and see what is really going on.
First and foremost, I haven’t read the source material ( I am going to now) but there was a fair amount of backlash against this film when it was announced that Tom Cruise had been cast as Reacher who is 6’5″ 250lbs in the books (and starts out in this mid-thirties). Clearly the 5’7″ Cruise is quite a bit shorter than the character and if it were a lesser actor we were talking about I would have been worried as well even without having ever read the books. As it happens, and I don’t care about the guy’s personal life, Cruise is a tremendous actor and can handle action better than just about anyone else in the business right now. Sure you can throw names out there but Cruise has been very reliable in this arena for years and he has not let his age slow him down any. In this role, which certainly has plenty of action, he makes up for his lack of size and stature with attitude and gravitas. Reacher from the books is supposed to be an unstoppable force who is never intimidated and Cruise pulls this off very well. His posture and facial expression conveys self-possession and confidence 100% of the time. He might not be a giant but his Reacher is intimidating and very cool. It is a ton of fun watching him navigate the plot and action scenes because it is clear that he gives 0% of a shit about any of the opposition.
Jack Reacher is a film with a lot of moving parts but it is put together with an elegance that keeps it from feeling overly complicated or confusing. I don’t know how much of this structure comes from the novel but director and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie has a knack for this kind of complex crime story and delivering a clean and satisfying experience. His sense of timing with humor and suspense is used to great effect here as Reacher has some great dialogue throughout the movie and it is impossible to really convey just how much of a badass he is in print. It really has to be seen. I will say that when he tells a guy he will beat him to death it is a good bet that is exactly what he is going to do.
The action in the movie is exciting and fun to watch but you never get the sense that this movie is just going through the motions to the next fight scene or car chase. There is meat to the story and the various twists and turns are doled out with confidence and precision. The audience knows more than Reacher from pretty much moment one so there is not much to actively figure out but watching Reacher put the pieces together is pretty great. It is nice to see a movie completely embrace a cool character but also to give the story substance. It is like if Bryan Mills from Taken had an actual plot to work with.
It isn’t all peaches and cream, though, because as complex as the story feels, the ultimate villian (legendary director Werner Herzog) and his motivations for why he is doing it falls a bit flat. For all the build up around the story and the murder plot I expected a bigger pay off. It is too bad that they undersold the ending because if that had held up, this would have been a pretty perfect thriller. As it is, it is still a great action movie with more substance than average.
The performances are pretty good across the board. Cruise was pretty amazing as Reacher and I really hope this becomes a franchise so I can see more of his take on the character for years to come. Jai Courtney, as Charlie, the real killer (relax they show him do it in the first few frames of the movie) was also excellent as a badass and makes me feel a bit better about the upcoming Die Hard movie where he will play John McClane’s son. Despite Herzog having pretty thin material to work with he still delivered a movie bad guy clinic and I would love to see him do this kind of thing more often. Richard Jenkins was reliable as always and Rosamund Pike delivered the right amount of skepticism and curiosity for the part. David Oyelowo is also good as homicide detective Emerson although there isn’t a lot to the role.
Conclusion [9.0 out of 10]
Jack Reacher is a very solid and entertaining thriller that knows what it wants to accomplish and does it in an almost effortless way. It is not high cinema and it is not going to change your world view but if you want a solid murder mystery/thriller with a healthy dose of action and a great lead character then you need look nowhere else. With the deluge of movies out during the holiday season, this is one that needs to be seen. It is counter programming in a way to awards season and family films and I hope that it finds its audience so we can have more. I really enjoyed it and if you are looking for a good action thriller with a mystery and some substance then you likely will too.