Jack Reacher (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Jack Reacher (2012)

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Plenty violentAndrew INDIFFERENCE BannerJack Reacher feels like the kind of movie that we don’t see much these days.  Sure, we’ve got Batman doing his thing to bring down vigilantes but there’s still a support team in place and a moral lesson at the end of the day.  Jack is not so positive in his outlook.  This film has the lean look and demeanor of the nihilistic action of the ‘70s and ‘80s where the guy with the badge could deal out justice as he needed.

This film is so confident in the eventual action that Jack is capable of it has one of those scenes where a name is written and the air goes out of the room.  After a scene of a sniper confidently taking down five pedestrians the camera switches to the wrongly accused.  He’s James Barr, and faced with the prospect of a quick trial ending in death he writes down, “Get Jack Reacher” on the confession slip.

To this point, there’s been nothing but cool execution, and had that trend continued on this review would have been a full-on recommendation.  But for all its bluster and muscle in its action scenes Reacher never learned the primary lesson of those early vigilante films.  In order for them to work there is fat that has to be cut and Reacher creaks when it should be flexing.  None of this is Tom Cruise’s fault, who plays Reacher with reserves of dark intensity, but with writer / director Christopher McQuarrie.

McQuarrie has plenty of moments to show how skilled he is at creating a tense, and near-silent, action scene.

McQuarrie has plenty of moments to show how skilled he is at creating a tense, and near-silent, action scene.

McQuarrie has a fruitful partnership with Bryan Singer and used that to springboard into personal endeavors.  His screenplays all gravitate toward the kind of drifter that Reacher centers around, give or take some gruffness.  His best film, The Way of the Gun, perfectly balanced lone gunmen with a convoluted plot filled with nasty surprises.  However with Reacher McQuarrie doesn’t cut away from the muscle of the story.  As Reacher goes around investigating the sniper plot he is surrounded by endless meandering conversations typically had with Helen (Rosamund Pike).

Not only are their myriad of scenes boring, they’re terrible from an exposition point of view.  They reiterate the same information only to circle back around 15 minutes later with roughly the same conversation.  McQuarrie is great at tough guy speak (“I mean to beat you to death and drink your blood from a boot”) but by so directly telling the story it begins to drag badly.  It doesn’t help that Helen, as played by Pike, is a total bore.  Pike puts so little of herself into the role I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t watching Julia Stiles instead.

But when Reacher works it’s a dark blast.  McQuarrie has talent for setting brutish and plausible action sequences.  An early fight scene showing Reacher dispatching a group of wanna-be tough guys is fine, but a later scene where two dummies try to get the drop on him and are foiled by their violent overreaction is superb.  Then there is the other McQuarrie plus, a car chase between Reacher and the sniper from the intro that takes place in the dead of night, one in pursuit of the other and both on the run from the cops, that keeps us fairly guessing about who has the upper hand.

Plenty of grade-A Cruise to go around.

Plenty of grade-A Cruise to go around.

Cruise is exceptional with this material since Reacher is the kind of protagonist that lets him reach into his darker side.  I love seeing Cruise work in the Collateral vein and is wonderfully brutal here.  I’m also a sucker for two of the supporting players, Richard Jenkins and Robert Duvall, who both create fun spaces for themselves in the film.  But they all pale in comparison to the magnificent bastard played by Werner Herzog.  He’s naturally blessed with the voice of a villain, but when he first arrives and begins coldly telling an underling to bite off his fingers while brandishing his own stumps lost to frostbite, he showed that he is fully capable of delivering the cold goods and I hope to see him in a better film.

Had Reacher trusted the audience with the twists and didn’t bother for all that needless exposition it would be a great success.  Herzog and Cruise are formidable presences and the action set-pieces superb.  But it’s flabby in all the wrong places, and lacks the drive to propel itself over the finish line.

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Jack Reacher - TailJack Reacher (2013)

Screenplay written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie.
Starring Tom Cruise.

Posted by Andrew

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