‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new movie Jack Reacher: Never Look Back is a puzzle of film. It has all the elements of a really good film, with strong, realistic action and a big star, and yet it never quite gets off the ground. It is pretty good; Tom Cruise is a solid professional and the whole creative team has done good work before, but there is not nearly enough excitement.
The best metaphor I can use is that if someone got a “paint by the numbers” Mona Lisa, they might stay within all the lines and get the colors right, but it would never hang in a museum. The issues holding the film back are just too strong to overcome.
Lee Child’s Jack Reacher character is an uncompromising almost anti-hero. A former army officer who investigated corruption, he left and now wanders the country, somehow getting involved in all sorts of crime situations. He is tall, very strong and rather homely, a man who seldom gets involved with women. In the books, he only occasionally has relationships. But in the movie, he is played by Tom Cruise!
In this film, he winds up dealing with his army replacement, Maj. Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), who is facing a possible court martial for espionage when she investigates the suspicious deaths of two soldiers in Afghanistan. We know from the start that she is being framed.
Then, to confuse what would be an overly simple plot, we have a pretty teen, Samantha Dayton (Danika Yarosh), who might be a daughter Reacher has never met. The bad guys, led by a corrupt general (Robert Knepper), are intent on making certain that they are not going to be exposed, no matter who has to be killed. The send “the Hunter” (Patrick Heusinger), a nasty and effective killer, to clean things up.
We have, of course, the expected chase, as the Hunter goes after his targets while Reacher targets him. There is an extended sequence in New Orleans during its Halloween celebration (at least they avoided the cliché of doing it during Mardi Gras). There’s a lot of action that is actually realistic and reasonably exciting.
The best part of the film is the three-way relationship between Reacher, Turner and Dayton. Reacher clearly has no real clue how to handle things, which is a nice shift from a lot of movies of this genre.
Cruise works hard, but just does not quite fit in the role. Back in the original 2012 movie, I felt that he played very well, turning in some real grit in a film noir. Here, he too often cannot quite carry that element. The glamor comes through a bit too strongly. Smulders is very good. We have an attractive, strong woman who can both think and fight. I think her Susan Turner character could carry a film by herself and probably be more interesting than what we have here.
I liked Yarosh, who was able to perform on even ground with two highly professional, older actors. Heusinger was properly scary and handled the fight and other action scenes with Cruise well.
The problem with the film is the writing. We know from the start who the bad guys are and, unfortunately, they are one-dimensional. Of course, anyone going against Cruise is a bad guy, but these are barely written. For a film like this to work, there have to be twists and turns, some unexpected moves. This film has none of those. There are more complications in Reacher’s relationship with his possible daughter than in the main plot, and there are elements that defy belief. He suddenly is willing to risk everything for a girl who he really does not believe is his daughter. That motive should have been filled out better in the film so we understand it.
Last week, I saw The Accountant, and I liked it far better, even though its main character was unemotional to the extreme. His relationships, limited by his autism, were interesting because of the limits, as well as moving the plot. And there were more than a handful of surprise moves. Nothing in the Reacher film comes as a real surprise. Since we know that Reacher will live through the film to enable a possible third film in the series, we are not caught up in the action.
Final verdict: not bad, but for the price, not a really good value.