In the opening scene of Christopher McQuarrie’s “Jack Reacher,” an ex-military sniper James Barr (Joseph Sikora) sets up in a multistory parking garage, across a river facing a baseball stadium in Pittsburg. He then proceeds to shoot and kill five innocent civilians. After the shooting Barr is quickly apprehended by the police and is expected to go to death row. However, he refuses to confess and calls on the help of one Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise), an ex-military cop who has since disappeared off the grid. There’s something fishy about the whole crime; it all seems too neat. Reacher owes Barr a favor (going back to when they were in the military together) so one day he drops by the DA’s office unannounced. Then, along with Barr’s defense attorney Helen (Rosamund Pike) the two try to figure out what really happened.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: how many times have I seen this before? And it’s true, on the outside “Jack Reacher” (based on a book series by Lee Child) doesn’t sound very different or interesting and seeing the trailers won’t change your mind. But the truth is, “Jack Reacher” is not your average Tom Cruise actioner. In fact it’s not like a majority of big budget action flicks you see these days. Overall it has the feel of an old-fashioned action movie and an old-fashioned action hero.
Everything isn’t sped up and as far as I could tell there was no major use of CGI. Unlike the “Bourne” movies there’s no shaky camera, the editing isn’t quick and choppy (individual shots last longer than five seconds). The characters aren’t always running off to some new place. The picture is patient, there’s hesitation before, during and after some of the action scenes. And best of all, there isn’t an overkill of action. When it does come you enjoy it because there weren’t a dozen or so gunfights or car chases before it. It’s deserved.
The movie’s primary focus is on the characters and crafting an interesting story. Not surprisingly Helen and Jack’s investigation leads them into a surprisingly complex web of cover up and deceit. It gets to the point where they can hardly trust anyone. But even for how complex it can get, “Jack Reacher” is still fairly easy to follow. McQuarrie doesn’t spell it out for us but neither does he leave us out in cold. And as the movie goes on, as more layers of intrigue are added on, the movie holds together and keeps you interested, wanting to see what happens next.
One of the most curious aspects of the entire movie is the fact that it has dual tones. On the one hand, there’s a certain level of seriousness. McQuarrie treats the violence in the film seriously. Take for example that opening scene where Barr commits the massacre, McQuarre shoots it straightforward and honestly, to the point where we feel the effect, the impact of this heinous crime. Same goes for other bits of violence involving innocents later on. And even when there’s violence and action we want to see (like when Jack is beating the piss out of someone) we still feel it. At the same time though there’s also playfulness and this sense of unbelievability. At the end of a chase scene with the cops, Jack casually gets out of his car as it continues to move; he then (still walking, still casual) hides in a group of pedestrians waiting for a bus, effectively losing the cops. McQuarrie pulls off a nice balance: The movie isn’t too serious but it’s also not too goofy and cartoonish.
If you’re not a fan of Tom Cruise chances are you still won’t be after this. Jack Reacher is the kind of character Cruise can play in his sleep: cocky, smart and charming. He handles everything in such a cool, casual and carefree manner. In that regard he reminded me a little of Harry Callahan (minus the racism and Eastwood’s unique rough and gruff stature); he plays by his own rules, exercises his own justice. Reacher can be tough and vicious but does so in style, as opposed to someone like Jason Bourne who’s more quiet and driven. Cruise is not doing anything particularly new and daring, but so what? How many times did John Wayne or Clint Eastwood play the same kind of macho cool guy? Like those actors he’s a presence on screen.
It will be interesting to see if “Jack Reacher” makes money. Yes it has Tom Cruise but it moves at a slower pace and there’s a lot more talking, two things that generally don’t sit well with the usual Friday night action audience. I hope people give it a chance; the movie is intelligent, engrossing, entertaining and carries weight. That’s a rare combination to come by in mainstream action films.