As soon as a Jack Reacher movie was announced with Tom Cruise as the lead, many fans of Lee Child’s character were up in arms. It had little to do with Cruise’s acting talent or the choice of Christopher McQuarrie as writer and director. It was the fact that Tom Cruise is seven inches shorter than the formidable 6’4″ hero Child writes about in the books. After seeing an advanced screening of Jack Reacher, the film proves that size matters little.
The plot sticks close to the book One Shot. The first ten minutes are pure cinema. Without dialogue, we view a killer take out five seemingly random people through the chilling POV of his rifle scope. We see the clues set before us, leading to the arrest of an ex-army sniper. The man doesn’t say a word, he just writes GET JACK REACHER.
This kicks off a cool montage and voice over that gives non-readers everything they need to know about Jack. He’s a brilliant former army investigator, who has trouble with authority and now lives off the grid. When he introduces himself, we learn he’s not out to prove the sniper innocent, he wants to make sure there’s an airtight case against the man to find him guilty. The evidence and a group of thugs sent to rough him up (who of course fail miserably) prove otherwise.
McQuarrie’s writing and direction make the film work. It’s a throw back to the stripped down action films of the ’70s. The fight choreography is clean, believable, and easy to follow with little quick cutting. A chase where Reacher turns the tables on a car that’s following him as he is pursued by a half dozen squad cars relies more on strategy than stunt work. The script also doesn’t shy away from the character’s more sociopathic instincts, particularly at the climax. This is a movie Steve McQueen could have been in (who was also under six feet.)
It also takes its violent content seriously. McQuarrie’s technique gives us a PG-13 film with little blood, but with an R-rated feel for the brutality of the actions. Mainly this is because he treats violence with respect for the damage it can do. The camera doesn’t fetishize guns the way a lot of films do, they are shown as blunt tools for killing. Every character that uses violence comes off either dim, socially maladjusted, or, like Reacher, carrying a void with them. When Reacher and the main villain, beautifully cast with German director Werner Herzog, look at each other in the eye, there is little difference that can be viewed between them.
The main question is about Tom Cruise as Reacher, though. My verdict is mixed, but accepting. His awareness of the camera and display of “intensity” has never quite worked for me. McQuarrie does his best to keep this in check and whether it comes off as Reacher’s confidence or a Cruise character’s cockiness will be in the eye of the individual viewer. For Reacher’s physical appearance, Cruise allows his age to show, showing the wear Reacher’s life has put on him. He portrays him as a man who has been through many tests, knowing he’s passed most of them and what to expect. After a few minutes I forgot about the height thing.
At best for Reacher fans, the movie reflects the spirit of the books and character and even at it’s worst, it is a strong, smart, old school action movie. And for those who need a 6’4″ actor, look for Child’s cameo as a desk sergeant in the police station scene.