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Review: Jack Reacher – Cool, corny crime-thriller

Posted by on December 21, 2012 – 12:10 am

Jack Reacher© 2012 Paramount Pictures
Jack Reacher , the latest Tom Cruise film vehicle, appears on the surface to be a run-of-the-mill crime thriller/action flick, complete with an eighties style European villain and a stereotypical gun-battle-at-the-quarry during its climatic finale; but this film has an ultra-sharp wit and completely embraces its cornball action movie roots. It unashamedly revels in its machismo and is great fun if you don’t take it too seriously.

There are plenty of Tom Cruise haters in the world, those who dislike the actor because of his religious beliefs, or because he jumped up & down on the couch on the Oprah Show, or provided unsolicited psychological advice to Brooke Shields on national television. I really don’t care what kind of wackiness the man gets into off the screen, all I know is that I’ve never seen a Tom Cruise movie that I wasn’t thoroughly entertained by … well maybe not Cocktail – but, come on, he’s entitled to a least one turkey.

While watching Jack Reacher I came to the realization that Cruise is our modern day John Wayne. He’s probably a better and more versatile actor than Wayne ever was, but both men have the swagger and everyman appeal that makes them great American movie heroes and I can’t think of another actor that could fill the Duke’s shoes.

There has been some controversy over Cruise starring in the Reacher role in that the character, who is based on the hero from the popular book series by Lee Child, is much bigger than Cruise is in real life. I haven’t read the books, so this was a non-issue for me, but I can say that Mr. Cruise confidently plays the part and is very believable in his ability to take on several bad guys, all at the same time, despite his physical stature.

A note on the Newtown school tragedy: You might be aware that the Jack Reacher premiere events were scaled way back in the wake of the recent Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting tragedy. There was a good reason for this in that the opening sequence of this movie depicts people being randomly shot down by a sniper. I have to admit that even though I really enjoyed this movie, it was rather unsettling watching these opening scenes. If you feel you might be sensitive to this type of material, you might want to consider skipping the first 5 – 8 minutes of this film.

Jack Reacher© 2012 Paramount Pictures
The plot in Jack Reacher, which is based on Lee Child’s book, One Shot, involves the sniper shootings of five people as they stroll through a Pittsburgh park. The alleged killer, an Army veteran, is easily found and captured, but when he is asked to sign a confession, he instead asks them to, “Get Jack Reacher,” confounding the police and district attorney who don’t know who that is or how to contact him.

It turns out Reacher (Cruise) is a former military policeman/investigator, a decorated retired soldier whose reputation has reached mythic proportions – even in his own mind. He is a cross between John Rambo and Alex Cross, both brilliant and badass at the same time. He drifts around the country with just the clothes on his back, solving crimes and, when necessary, delving out his own brand of street justice. I told you this was cornball – but I loved every minute of it.

Reacher has heard about the shooting incident and comes to town of his own accord, as he knows the alleged killer from a previous murderous incident in the military, and he plans to deal with him in his own way. But before he arrives, the shooter is beat into a coma by other prisoners and cannot talk. After discussing the case with the alleged killer’s defense attorney, Reacher starts to believe there just might be more to this case than meets the eye.

Jack Reacher© 2012 Paramount Pictures
As the story and the investigation unfold, Reacher and the pretty defense attorney, Helen (Rosamund Pike), uncover a plot devised by a wealthy European bad guy known as “The Zec” (played by famed filmmaker Werner Herzog). I was never really sure what this guy’s motives were, but he’s a very fun and interesting villain nonetheless; and in the end his muddy motivations just seemed to fit in with this movie’s nod to the action flicks of the eighties & nineties.

Jack Reacher has some great fight sequences, including a hilarious one with some three-stooge-like crack dealers; and it also has one of the most exciting car chases I’ve seen in a while, an action movie staple that I usually find tedious but that this film was able to present in an exciting new way.

Another aspect of this movie that I really loved was its sharp and snappy dialogue, especially between Jack and Helen when discussing the investigation. It was like something out of a forties detective drama, but still with a modern flare. There are plenty of excellent action hero one-liners in this movie as well, delivered by Cruise with heroic charm and wit.

Jack Reacher© 2012 Paramount Pictures
There is a fantastic supporting cast in this film that includes Richard Jenkins as the district attorney, David Oyelowo (The Paperboy) as the lead police investigator and the veteran actor Robert Duvall as a crusty old marine veteran running a shooting range. Jack Reacher was written for the screen and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, whose last directorial effort was the underrated action movie The Way of the Gun, from way back in 2000. He has a quirky style that makes this movie, which contains so much old school allure, seem exhilarating and fresh.

This film is a great opening act for what is sure to be another successful Cruise franchise and whether or not it is an intentional tribute to old-style action movies is unclear, but that is the way I saw this film, and on those terms it is very well done. If its corniness was all completely unintentional, then they sure fooled me, but either way Jack Reacher works.  Grade: 8/10