I enjoyed the new Tom Cruise thriller “Jack Reacher.” Since I never have enough time to read the right stuff, I haven’t read any of the seventeen Jack Reacher novels about a former U.S. Army investigator who roams the country like a lone wolf. Sounds to me like Cruise is searching for another franchise to topline. Award-winning, international bestselling author Lee Child is an interesting fellow himself. Actually, his real name is Jim Grant, and he was born in 1954. A former Granada Television producer, he hails from Great Britain, but has since moved to America. He acknowledge that Cruise look nothing like his literary character, but he has praised this cinematic adaptation. Chris Hemsworth, Dwayne Johnson, and Liam Neeson might have been better. Nevertheless, this intelligent but contrived murder/mystery couldn’t have been released at a worse time. It will be interesting to see how major Hollywood blockbusters about gun-toting heroes fare in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. The worst thing you can say about “Jack Reacher” is that it is a gritty but formulaic police procedural with murky bad guys conducting calculated criminal acts. No maniacs break into schools and murder innocent lambs. As good as “Jack Reacher” is, this Paramount Pictures release doesn’t surpass other Cruises epics, such as “Collateral,” “Top Gun,” “Mission Impossible 2,” “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” and “The Last Samurai.”
Basically, “Jack Reacher” (*** OUT OF ****) qualifies as an energetic, above-average, but predictable murder mystery. Tom Cruise and his leading lady Rosemund Pike kindle little chemistry. At an imposing 130 minutes, “Jack Reacher” couldn’t have made time for a romance between the itinerant hero and the district attorney’s virtuous daughter. Several scenes are questionable and some things just don’t seem right. Happily, “Jack Reacher” boasts more hits than misses. A restrained Cruise appears to be channeling Paul Newman with his laconic performance, but “Jack Reacher” isn’t a role that fits him like a glove. Basically, this Spartan, low-key thriller could have used a rewrite or two to sharpen it. Moreover, if screen veteran Robert Duvall—long past his prime—hadn’t shown up for the bullet-blasting finale, “Jack Reacher” wouldn’t be worth jack. Comparisons between the film and a synopsis of the novel indicate writer & director Christopher McQuarrie hasn’t deviated drastically from the source material. Consequently, “Jack Reacher” amounts to an origins epic. Cruise plays an enigmatic character, not unlike the Jim Caviezel character John Reese in CBS-TV’s “Person of Interest.” Resourceful guys like these two live off the grid. The chief difference is Reacher shuns the kind of support Reese has in the form of computer genius Harold Finch.
When a deadly sniper guns down several people in broad daylight in Pittsburgh, the local authorities get a break and capture the unsuspecting gunman. The local District Attorney tries to bully a confession out of their suspect, an ex-Army sniper named James Barr (Joseph Sikora of “Safe”), but he refuses to cooperate. Instead, he asks them to contact Jack Reacher. Before his case comes up for trial, Barr is badly beaten up in prison and his life hangs in the balance. Out of nowhere, Jack Reacher materializes with everybody least expects him. Reacher talks with the D.A., and later with Barr’s attorney, Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike of “Die Another Day”), who has taken the case against her father’s stern advice. Repeatedly, Reacher assures Helen that he is not a defense witness. He explains to Helen that Barr left the Army after going on a shooting rage. when he didn’t have a chance to rack up any kills in his combat zone. The more that Reacher investigates the shootings, the more he comes to believe that Barr is a patsy. Nothing that the real shooter did corresponds with anything that Barr would have done. Before it is over with, our hero reexamines the casualties of the massacre and finds the answer to a cover-up that looks like it goes into the highest levels of law enforcement in Pittsburgh, the Office of the District Attorney.
Make no mistake, “Jack Reacher” isn’t a high-octane actioneer, but it is both believable and complex. McQuarrie keeps our hero jumping through flaming hoops throughout most of the action. An exciting, urban car and a no-nonsense street fight enliven the action when a variety of characters aren’t conferring over the business at hand. Among film geeks, Christopher McQuarrie is known as the guy who wrote the classic thriller “The Usual Suspects.” Not only did McQuarrie not adapt Lee Child’s crime thriller about a mysterious “Lone Ranger” type who spurns all twenty-first century conveniences to solve crime, but he also directed it. McQuarrie proves once again that he is a better writer than a director. Some scenes play better than others. The supporting cast, including Richard Jenkins at the District Attorney and David Oyelowo as a Pittsburgh detective, are good. “Jack Reacher” is worth seeing at least once in a movie theater.0