A Film Review by Tim Riley
JACK REACHER (Rated PG-13) If it weren’t for the “Mission Impossible” movies, Tom Cruise probably would not have yet established his bona fides as an action figure. “Jack Reacher” should eliminate any lingering doubts.
Readers, though, of British thriller writer Lee Child’s novels may quarrel with the selection of the diminutive Cruise for the role belonging to a physically imposing person tall enough to be an NBA player. “Jack Reacher” may be a reach, at least with respect to the protagonist’s stature, but not for the end result of the gritty, emotionless realism that Cruise delivers with skillful intensity.
Cruise’s Jack Reacher, the film’s titular character, is an old-school operative, fascinating for his ability to live off the grid. He’s a drifter who only travels by bus and doesn’t have a cell phone or credit cards. Having served in the U.S. Army with distinction as a military policeman, Reacher is now a loner who would prefer to forget about his past experiences, including his service during the Iraq War.
But the past rears its ugly head when former military sniper James Barr (Joseph Sikora) is the apparent shooter who picks off five people strolling along the riverfront walk outside of Pittsburgh’s baseball stadium. When the shooter is arrested, based on a trail of evidence that seems all-too-convenient, his first request is scrawled on a piece of paper: “Get Jack Reacher.”
The mysterious Reacher, already a legendary figure, is not one who can be found. Oddly enough, when he is needed, Reacher materializes as if summoned during a séance. The drifter has a history with the alleged shooter, but it’s not a favorable one. The case against the prime suspect looks to be solid, right down to the fingerprint obtained from a quarter deposited in a parking meter at the crime scene.
Brilliant in math, logic and the power of deductive reasoning, Reacher sets out on an investigative search to solve the case, regardless of where the evidence points to guilt or innocence. The suspect is represented by Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), an able big-firm lawyer who just happens to be the daughter of District Attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins).
Thus, the case is complicated by the personal and professional conflicts between the DA and the defense attorney. Add to the mix Detective Emerson’s (David Oyelowo) lack of enthusiasm for Reacher’s involvement.Always a step ahead of everyone else, Reacher advises Helen to find out more about each of the victims. He’s also puzzled that an expert sniper needed six shots to kill the five so-called random victims.
As Reacher starts turning over rocks, suspicious characters just happen to show up in strange circumstances. Shadowy figures are increasingly nervous that Reacher’s probing will uncover some problematic facts. A misunderstanding with a pretty girl (Alexia Fast) causes five guys to challenge Reacher to a fight outside a bar. Not a good move, since the ex-Army cop dispatches these guys with relative ease.
Of course, this won’t be the last time that Reacher is required to use his impressive physical skills for some intense hand-to-hand combat with mysterious assailants. None of these encounters happens to be arbitrary confrontations with ordinary street thugs. Except to the authorities, it’s obvious that nefarious things are occurring to cover up the truth.
How come a creepy guy who looks very much like director Werner Herzog (well, actually it is him), a Russian villain with missing fingers and a glassy eye, is manipulating a bunch of trigger-happy bad guys so as to keep James Barr as the only suspect? A nice touch to stir up a great action scene is a muscle-car chase in which Reacher’s pursuit of bad guys in a borrowed vintage Chevy Chevelle careens through the concrete canyons of Pittsburgh in the dangerous high-speed spirit of “The French Connection.”
Arriving late to the party is Robert Duvall’s gun-range owner, who unknowingly has evidence of a key person on the proxy grassy knoll and becomes an ally for the final showdown at a rock quarry. Having not read Lee Child’s “One Shot,” the novel on which the storyline is based, I suspect that essential plot points are missing or distorted, causing fans of the “Jack Reacher” literary franchise a fair amount of dismay.
As a cinematic enterprise, the Christopher McQuarrie-directed “Jack Reacher” delivers the basic pleasures of an action film with enough vigilante justice, fights and car chases to satisfy the indispensable formula. And so what if Tom Cruise comes up a little short for the size of the hero? If the “Mission Impossible” days are over, “Jack Reacher” is the answer for an aging action hero’s quest to stay in the game.