Jack Reacher Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie Cast: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Werner Herzog Running Time: 2 hrs 10 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: December 21, 2012
PLOT: An ex-soldier (Cruise) is consulted to solve a mystery behind a sniper's attack in Pittsburgh.
WHO'S IT FOR? Patient action fans, and those looking for a little mystery as well; loving movies like Dirty Harry wouldn't hurt.
EXPECTATIONS: I have been curious about this film ever since it first started showing up on IMDb - what good would another action character do for Tom Cruise anyway? And whoa, is that Werner Herzog in the cast?
Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher: Cruise, in another role that he is trying to make into a franchise, is a bit too sarcastic with this character, who comes off as superhuman without Jason Bourne's Manchurian Candidate-like armed forces programming. Reacher is a really great shot (obviously), and he apparently always thinks ahead (and beyond) others, even if their job is investigation. By the end of the movie, the film even toys with him being a superhero, the type who suddenly reappears when he is needed, (Batman is owed royalties for the way Jack Reacher signs off), but do we really need another heroic protagonist who claims to be above general outreach? And of course, Cruise has an image to protect and serve, so before Reacher is physically introduced there is a whole bunch of talk about how great he is, and how he looms over so many people. (All this bewildered folk talk about how great and mysterious he is, you'd think he was Tom Cruise). There's also a distracting element that Cruise must have insisted on having any woman he walk by gaze at him in wonderment, because he's just so really, really, ridiculously good looking. In this sense, it is a wonder what would have happened with this character if he were to be played by someone else, especially an actor who does not have his producing hands all over a project used to nervously continue his star persona. Would the character be able to breathe more without Cruise's grip, or would Jack Reacher be bland? Does anyone have Channing Tatum's phone number? Score: 6
Rosamund Pike as Helen: She isn't the most interesting of characters who have played sidekick to a hero like Reacher. Her character seems to the go the regular course of a civilian caught in the crossfire. Pike does have an unexpected scene in which she confronts a father of one of the sniper's victims. And while this is a well-acted scene, especially with the display of her complete fear in seeing that he, too, is armed, it doesn't make this particular character seem any more urgent. Score: 5
Werner Herzog as The Zec: The results of Herzog's intriguing casting are slightly disappointing, as his placement seems to coast too much on his Herzog-ness, (referring to what comes in the package, like that beautiful voice, especially). He has a monologue about survival, which is kind of spooky (if not funny, hearing his very distinct voice), but it is nothing compared to the gripping sinister monologue by Javier Bardem in last November's Skyfall. Likely joining the project because he liked what the movie was saying as opposed to what he'd have to do, Herzog basks in the darkness of the film (sitting in the shadows at least twice), and adds a little creepiness that is mostly just Herzog bein' Herzog, with the assistance of a few lines from McQuarrie's script. Score: 6
TALKING: The dialogue of the film doesn't elevate Jack Reacher too high above the level of pulp, but it does have moments of clever, funny banter. If there's any glaring fault, McQuarrie is guilty of overindulging on creating a hyper myth out of Jack Reacher, hyping him up to a desperate level that simply feels goofy. Score: 7
SIGHTS: Working within the action expectations, the film does have some very gripping moments, including a roaring car chase through Pittsburgh, and a finale that manages to get away with the cliche of having people fight in the rain. Helping audiences further grow from the Bourne era, McQuarrie's camera is slick without resorting to disorienting hand-helds; action sequences are presented cold and clear. Working with something more '70s than 2012, Jack Reacher has a raw quality that McQuarrie uses aptly. Score: 7
SOUNDS: The score of the film is built on the "Brrraaahhhmmm" bassy crescendo made sexy by Hans Zimmer's score for Inception, which is now equally equated with iPhone alerts and any movie with people running in it. But, Joe Kraemer’s score doesn't feel like a retread, but an elaboration. Especially in the beginning of the movie, with teasing overhead shots of an unknown act of crime in progress, the crescendos of Jack Reacher achieve the intensity intended, slowly building the orchestra on one chord until it sounds like the instruments are about to explode. It is a very necessary way to set the scene, and like Lalo Schifrin's dissonant Dirty Harry score, easily sets the scene for the disquietude that lays ahead. Score: 7
BEST SCENE: That car chase scene ROARS. Nice to hear a chase scene that actually sounds like a damn car chase.
ENDING: Jack Reacher Begins.
REWATCHABILITY: Likely good for a rewatch, mostly to break down how Jack Reacher doesn't feel like any regular action movie.
It was only a matter of time before Dirty Harry would come back. Thankfully not in the form of a remake, prequel, or sequel, we instead have a new Tom Cruise movie that continues the Gospel of Harry like it had never lost its vigor. Directed by Christopher McQuarrie (who once wrote a little movie called The Usual Suspects), this adaptation of the novel "One Shot" by Lee Child owes a lot to the unjust territory formerly blasted apart by Clint Eastwood, his magnum, and his gut instinct for what was right, and what simply wasn't.
The film is a very slowly built mystery, with extra chapters (including a flashback on the lives of the victims, which doesn't feel necessary despite being well done) and dedicated backgrounds to even the Zec's henchmen (he's the queen bee, don't go to this movie expecting a lot of Herzog). There are also moments in Jack Reacher in which it takes its post-recession status with pride, honoring a man who has stripped himself of a continually invasive society, and pausing to make a point about "prisoners," with Reacher equating people in offices at night to captives like Herzog’s characters. For those keeping track, Reacher is also reminiscent of John Rambo, as Cruise’s character brings the war back home with him, while living an individual, detached life. If a Jack Reacher movie were to start with Reacher being recruited from temporary quarters of a Buddhist temple, one would not be surprised.
Most of all, the surprising electricity of Jack Reacher is charged by the confidence of Christopher McQuarrie as a director, who doesn't hesitate to let his film vamp, or allow his running time to take a break (for a movie with a ten minute car chase, this movie is quite slow). The pacing of this movie is all the more indication that McQuarrie is looking back to the slickness of cinema in the 1970s, which is certainly a great place to start.
The comparisons between Jack Reacher and Dirty Harry are easy, as Jack Reacher seems to be fine as the 2012 attempt at what Clint Eastwood and Don Siegel achieved in 1971. Jack Reacher even starts as Dirty Harry does, with a cold sequence of a sniper killing, a unique act of terrorism that is surprisingly not seen in more movies. From there, Reacher shows to be a student of Eastwood's Harry Callahan, while embodying the outrage of a society that sometimes sees beyond fair trial, and wants revenge. In their eyes, lawful justice itself is not a sustainable system, and it requires those who see right from wrong to execute it, especially when the system it seem so corrupt. For Jack and Harry, it isn't about justice, but about what is right, per the functioning of the moral compass by the person about to deliver justice. (And especially in the case of women: if rapists are murdered in the world of Jack Reacher, well, let's just move on.)
With this being said, while Reacher may not be near as classic as its ancestor, and Cruise shows himself that he may never have the golden brawn of Eastwood, no matter how much he shows himself kicking in ass in a movie. But, the film does work with its audience by offering the same thrills - the constant moral questionings, the cool pacing of a winding mystery, and of course, a hero that you allow to be your surrogate when it comes to taking on the trash of an unjust world.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10