I’d been following the online firestorm around the casting of 5-foot-something Tom Cruise in the role of the 6 foot 5 inch tall ex-military loner, but nevertheless had put down Jack Reacher in my list of must-see year-end movies of 2012. In fact, I had listed it along with Taken 2 as a ‘guilty pleasure’, because I didn’t really care too much if the casting worked or not, but was determined to fulfill my obligation as a long-time fan of Tom Cruise films (except for Knight and Day, but that was Cameron Diaz’s fault!).
I watched the first of my two guilty pleasures – Taken 2 last month and it certainly wasn’t as good as the original, but after watching Jack Reacher earlier this evening, I can confidently take it off that list and say that it stands on its own feet as a genuinely good, well-scripted, well-acted crime thriller, excelling in almost every aspect of genre film-making.
I haven’t read the Lee Child novel ‘One Shot’ on which the film is based, so I can’t comment on whether the sequencing of the screenplay mirrors the novel, or if some of that credit should be given to director-screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie. Mr. McQuarrie is no slouch; he broke through with the script for The Usual Suspects back in 1995 and then after a hiatus of nearly a decade from filmmaking came back with the excellent real life story Valkyrie in 2008. He seems to be on a roll now with screenplays to Jack the Giant Slayer (2013), The Wolverine (2013) and All You Need is Kill (2014).
The film opens with a sequence depicting just the sort of crime that gun-control advocates are crusading against in the US at the moment. In fact, I wasn’t surprised that such an excellent crime thriller has only grossed USD 77 mn at the American box office so far; I can’t imagine that the American people have the stomach to watch something that rings so close to the truth…it’s much easier to gorge on improbable fantasies like aliens, monsters or super-villains attacking New York City, isn’t it?
Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher character is introduced just as you would imagine the introduction of a superstar who also happens to be the producer of the movie…with a number of clichéd shots that show everything about the man, except for his face, knowing fully well that the audience is waiting impatiently for the moment when the camera finally settles on those familiar features.
There is some real chemistry between Tom Cruise and ex-Bond girl Rosamund Pike who plays lawyer (and Jack Reacher’s temporary ‘employer’) Helen Rodin, although the rootless nature of Reacher’s character means that there is never going to be a relationship between them. Aussie hunk Jai Courtney is compelling as one of Reacher’s key adversaries; Mr. Courtney will be seen again in a few months playing John McClane’s son in the latest DieHard movie. But the biggest impact was surely made by 70-year-old award-winning German director Werner Herzog playing the mysterious villain Zec. The combination of the German accent and the expression-less face was chilling.
Five-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Caleb Deschanel does an outstanding job behind the camera, especially with the car chase through the streets of Pittsburgh, the opening sequence and of course, the climax at the end.
I also enjoyed the occasional moments of humor (something rather rare in Tom Cruise films), such as the attack on Reacher’s character by a pair of bumbling tough guys inside a suspect’s house and the scene when some regular folks on the street help Reacher evade the cops.
Overall, I would be ready to sign up for more Jack Reacher adventures featuring Tom Cruise (there are 17 novels and some short stories) and if they can keep the production cost at USD 60 mn as they did in this case, then the movies are likely to turn out a decent profit.