Although movies are meant to hold a mirror up to life, sometimes the details hit too close to home. Such is the case with Jack Reacher, a perfectly serviceable mystery thriller undone by disturbing parallels with recent real-world shooting violence.
Granted, you wouldn’t need to have read the newspaper recently to be distressed by Reacher‘s opening scene, in which a sniper slowly passes his rifle scope over multiple unaware citizens, including children, before pulling the trigger and slaying five people. It’s a horrifying scene, yet instantly engrossing, and under other circumstances screenwriter-director Christopher McQuarrie might even be lauded for it. With news events still fresh in the mind, however, it may give viewers a certain distaste for the movie right off the bat.
Remarkably though, the film then settles into a slow-burn detective story that continues to hold interest. A suspect is apprehended quickly, the case open-and-shut for Detective Emerson (David Oyelowo) and District Attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins). They have just one complication – their suspect, Barr (Joseph Sikora), will only speak to Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise, also producing), a former military police inspector drifting around the United States by bus, living off the grid.
Reacher arrives coincidentally, having seen the case on the news. Years earlier he prosecuted Barr for a similar crime while on duty in the Middle East, and he’s here to make sure justice is done again. Except Barr is injured in a prison fight and falls into a coma before Reacher can speak with him. There are also some other strange details to the case, and it isn’t long before Reacher is investigating on behalf of Barr’s defence lawyer, Helen (Rosamund Pike), who just happens to be DA Rodin’s daughter.
Fans of author Lee Child’s Reacher novels will balk at Cruise’s vanity casting, since the character is described in the books as being 6’5″ and physically imposing. But Cruise’s history as an action star serves him well here, and the script is energetic enough to smooth over the less believable aspects of his performance. It’s nice that, even though Reacher is always the smartest guy in the room, he’s not invulnerable: occasionally he’ll get tagged by a bad guy, or he’ll make a bad improvisational choice. Cruise makes most of it work.
The rest of the cast contribute in turn. Pike seems a bit over-earnest, but she’s saddled with playing Reacher’s sounding board most of the time. Jenkins and Oyelowo are good, keeping us guessing as to their motives. Jai Courtney is suitably menacing as hitman Charlie. There’s even a little bit of interesting stunt casting: Robert Duvall as a flaky gun range owner, and German director Werner Herzog as “The Zec”, one of those classic Eastern-European bad guys who has no qualms about anything.
That controversial opening scene is also redeemed somewhat by a better-than-average focus on the victims. McQuarrie includes a scene where Helen recaps to Reacher who each person was, and while its true purpose is to provide exposition for the plot, it’s also a moment with emotional impact – these are no longer faceless characters.
With its loose threads tied up through vigilante justice, though, I found the ending of Jack Reacher unsatisfying. I think that’s also why it doesn’t quite succeed overall, as entertaining as it sometimes is: in yet another story of senseless violence, maybe we’re just getting tired of seeing it settled by someone picking up yet another gun.
Tags: movie review