‘Jack Reacher’ A Surprisingly Good Movie


I found Jack Reacher, a new film starring Tom Cruise, to be a really pleasant surprise. It moves quickly, and there are enough twists and turns for any lover of mysteries, plus a lot of tough, gritty action to satisfy any sane person. It is also unfortunate in its timing, coming out right after everyone has been shocked and saddened by the action of a real-life killer.

And that is how the film begins. A sniper kills five people from a distance, using six shots to do it. The lead police officer, Emerson (David Oyelowo) finds enough evidence to convince Pittsburgh District Attorney Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins) that he has a just about perfect case. But the accused, James Barr (Joseph Sikora), demands they get Jack Reacher. The authorities quickly learn that Reacher (Tom Cruise) was a very successful army criminal investigator who had become a drifter. Right after news of the arrest breaks nationally, Reacher shows up. He disappoints Helen, the pretty defense attorney (Rosamund Pike), who is also Rodin’s daughter, by telling her he came to make certain Barr is finished off.

While investigating the case for her, however, in going about getting the information he wants as a way of ensuring Barr’s punishment (Barr got away with shooting and killing several people wrongly in Iraq), Reacher discovers a far more complex plot than he expected. Of course, there is a lot of fighting, a great car chase scene and the distinct odor of government corruption through all of this.

The film reminds me a lot of the really good crime movies of the 1970s, where there was a grittiness to drama. In recent years, most of our successful films are violent; the most successful movies so far this year are The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games, The Twilight Saga, The Amazing Spider Man, Skyfall and Brave. And we have Les Misérables and Django still to come. Even The Hobbit is filled with violence. And all of them have plenty of violence, but most of it is so over the top that reality is lost. That is not the case in this film.

Those who have read the very successful Reacher series of books by Lee Child know that Cruise is a strange choice to play Reacher, who is described as being 6-foot-5 and close to 250 pounds. Cruise missed that by 10 inches and about 75 pounds. He is also far more charming as well as noticeably better-looking. But he carries off the role really well, handling the fight scenes admirably. And, for a change, the hero actually gets hurt. These scenes lack the fun of the comic-book style fighting we’ve become used to.

Reacher is an expert in hand-to-hand combat, able to defend himself well, but he does get hurt… just like a real person. The final confrontational group of scenes just before the end is set up particularly well, as Reacher and an old Army guy, a real character named Cash (Robert Duvall) go up against the really bad guys. Writer/Director Christopher McQuarrie manages to use both comedy and tension to create an exceptionally effective battle scene.

The cast is very good. Cruise manages to capture a lot of the book’s character while adding enough of himself to keep everything believable. Pike is good as the defense attorney, and Jenkins, one of the best character actors in Hollywood, is very strong as her father, the district attorney, who may be a bad guy. Duvall has a great time playing the old veteran; he gets a lot of good laughs and provides a couple of the key moments. The great German director Werner Herzog is mostly wasted as the behind-the-scenes villain. Oyelowo is good as the detective, and there are a lot of people in small roles that are far better defined as characters than is normally the case is films like this.

I particularly liked the ending, where not only were a lot of the pieces all tied together, but the originally accused sniper was shown to be clearly repentant of his past, while the good guys were able to recognize that he was innocent. Too often, characters in lesser roles wind up forgotten while the director focuses on the stars.

In a season of big movies, ones deliberately designed to find huge audiences, Jack Reacher is a small, very well-done, action drama. No one wears tights, the villains are real people, and the characters interesting. It is a nice break from the unreality of our current movies.