When a shooter fires six shots from a parking station into a crowded bayside park, killing five innocent civilians, a former army sniper, James Barr, is quickly picked up. All of the evidence (the van used, a fingerprint on a quarter, the custom bullets) suggests that he's the wanted man. To the surprise of his prosecutors, Barr immediately requests to have Jack Reacher, a ghost who is only ever found if he wants to be, work for his defense. It doesn’t take Reacher long to figure out that Barr has been set up; setting out to uncover who's really responsible. The casting of Cruise as Reacher, originally written by Lee Child to be an unstoppable force of nature (an imposing 6’5, 200 plus pound figure, I believe), has garnered controversy since the announcement. Cruise certainly doesn’t have this sort of size, so this disdain is understandable, but he makes up for that by oozing this focused and confident intensity. His compelling presence exceeds his stature. He is physically capable and convincingly pulls off the demeanour reminiscent of such a decorated career. What is terrific about Reacher is that his intelligence and his ability to unravel the case and coerce alternative theories without even a second look at the evidence is more essential than his physical prowess. His punches sure leave an impression, but Cruise is also given some killer lines, and his fast wit and cheeky delivery consistently provoked laughs.
It is a cracking good time, starting out with a sequence of excellent direction, with McQuarrie challenging his audience to look through the scope along with the shooter. He has already proven he can write terrific dialogue and his Academy Award-winning script for The Usual Suspects blends a complex whodunit mystery with thrilling action and dark comedy. There are examples of a similar complexity and smart mouth antics here. Jack Reacher feels like an honorary throwback to hard-boiled detectives and crime thrillers like LA Confidential, eliminating the overly stylised action and relying on character and genuine stakes. This is an adaptation of a pulp novel that doesn’t adhere to all of the rules.
The casting of grizzly old folk like Werner Herzog and Robert Duvall, who appear to be given free reign to do what they like, provide some memorable moments. Herzog’s no stranger to being in front of the camera, but as is revealed in a lengthy monologue, his European criminal mastermind (referred to as ‘The Zec’) has seen it all. His henchmen are formidable foes. The rest of the cast – including Pike, Richard Jenkins (Barr’s prosecutor fighting for the Death Sentence) and David Oyelowo (chief police investigator who quickly declares the case closed) are universally solid, but Cruise steals the show.
McQuarrie's inclusion of effective changes of tone during sequences of tension – one involving two hardheaded thugs and a baseball bat is worth mentioning – and the ongoing playful banter between Cruise and Pike add to the fun. Another positive is the fact that the film’s so well paced that the two plus hours just disappears. The answers to the mystery are buried deeply, but when they are revealed, they are believable. The film maintains its intrigue but offers up consistent bursts of action – a spectacular car chase through the streets of Pittsburgh is terrific, to name but one - that keep the story evolving.
Jack Reacher, fuelled by Cruise’s impressive work as the badass investigator operating outside the law, is a consistently entertaining crime thriller that took me by surprise. It is a polished and well-directed production that never fails to engross. As McQuarrie offers his reveals you’re sure to remain glued to the screen.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22