Although I’ve only read one of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, my expectations for this film were very low for the same reason many fans of the series have disparaged it: Cruise’s stature is wanting for that oversized character. Cruise also lacks the inherent violence and nearly visceral menace of Child’s Reacher. This violent, sometimes brutal suspense thriller was thus quite a surprise, both in how effectively Cruise creates a commanding physical presence despite his small stature, and for how well the film works in general.
Jack Reacher opens as five civilians are shot dead in a city mall. Clearly, this is the work of a superior sniper. Barr (Joseph Sikora), a former army sniper and the seeming culprit, is soon arrested. On the pad the police have provided him for his confession, Barr instead writes: “Get Jack Reacher.” It seems almost coincidental that Jack Reacher soon arrives in the city since he was actually summoned by no one. It turns out that Reacher is convinced that Barr is guilty, and shows up to make sure justice is done. Gradually, he comes to suspect that Barr may have been set up, and begins to work on the case with Helen (Rosamund Pike), Barr’s defense attorney.
The film is occasionally predictable, and slow-moving in places. At 130 minutes, it is overlong and a bit drawn out. Still, Jack Reacher is mostly enthralling and very suspenseful. Although this action thriller is often dark and, at times, quite brutal, the film is just as often humorous.
The cast is surprisingly fine. Cruise’s performance as the title character provides the necessary intelligence, strength, and physical confidence to drive the film. In order for the character to work, Reacher has to be played as an unstoppable force of nature, yet one that is almost laid-back – a quality that Cruise pulls off fantastically. Pike also turns in an expert performance here, and the dynamic between these two characters as they work the case together drives the film.
Most notable is the work of a couple of veterans. Playing a character called "The Zec," director Werner Herzog is creepy, bizarrely evil, and powerful. Given the body of his work, one should not be surprised that Herzog proves such a superior actor and haunting screen presence. I had just never considered him as a talent in that area. Robert Duvall plays a crusty and eccentric gun range owner named Cash, and seems to have even more fun than he usually does, going the distance in this performance rather than underplaying it.
The film is written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, most of whose credits are as a screenwriter. These range from his Oscar-winnng The Usual Suspects to his contributions to the less-than-satisfying The Tourist. His only previous directorial effort is the extremely well-cast, charming gangster film The Way of the Gun. Building the story as well as executing some surprising twists in Jack Reacher, McQuarrie does a fine job both as writer and director.
Ultimately, the film rises and falls on Cruise’s aggressively magnetic performance. Whether the movie will become a tent pole for a film franchise based on Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels will be determined by the box office.