This Tom Cruise action thriller sort of popped in under the radar for me. I’ve never read any of author Lee Childs books dealing with a dangerous and intelligent former military police investigator and his various crime-related adventures. The one thing that did catch my eye was that this flick was to be the second feature film directed by kick-ass writer Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects). His first film is the seriously underrated and under-seen The Way of the Gun (2000). In that film, he demonstrated a unique style of presentation on top of his usual flair for crackling dialogue. So, it was the mention of McQuarrie taking the reins that caused me to notice this one. For those who don’t know the story, Cruises Jack Reacher character gets called out of self-imposed retirement/exile to take on the case of a former US Army sniper who seemingly opted to pop his ‘crazy’ fuse and cold-bloodedly gun down 5 innocent people in a public place. As Reacher embarks on his quest to solve the myriad of questions that start to emerge as he puts the case under the microscope, outside forces emerge from the woodwork to impede his progress, often including instances of bodily harm and attempted murder. I wasn’t sure how well Cruise would differentiate the Reacher character from his other ‘espionage’ role, Mission: Impossibles Ethan Hunt. Happily, I can report that he very capably makes Reacher his own, with enough little nuances to separate the two. Now plenty of people, namely die-hard fans of the books, have beaked off about the drastic changes that the film makes to the physical presentation of Jack Reacher. If I recall correctly, the character is supposed to be some huge, muscle-bound Aryan-looking motherfucker. Now, as a literary guy who understands the attachments that can be made to well-written or interesting characters, I can see where casting the midget that is Cruise in a role written as a human monster might ruffle a few feathers. But having not read any of the books…I don’t give a shit. Cruise makes up for his glaring lack of size with an undercurrent of quiet, controlled menace. For a man who just entered his 50s, the dude knows how to sell a fight. There are a couple of good fisticuffs on display and he fucks some dudes up but good. He’s not quite a Jason Bourne, with near mythical powers of combat. He takes a good punch or two but knows how to bring a fight to a painful end, usually for his opponent. The rest of the cast was a little ‘iffy’ for me. For starters, the female lead, a defense attorney played strangely by Rosamund Pike, irked me. There was just something…off, about the character and the portrayal. Pike spent a lot of time looking like she was caught in a permanent spin-cycle of mental bewilderment. All wide eyes and open mouth. We didn’t find out enough about her to really care. Her relationship with Reacher is a little foggy as well, with no set definition or connection…at least as I saw it. Another cast member that I found odd, was the inclusion of Cruises Days of Thunder (1990) co-star Robert Duvall. The reason I found him odd wasn’t the fact that it was Robert Duvall (as I think the man is great) but rather how he was used. When we first meet his shooting range owner character, he’s basically being interrogated by Reacher about his customers. The dialogue and actions between the two men borders on fatally antagonistic (you’ll see what I mean). Then, during the climactic (and very cool) gun battle, Duvall just turns up and he and Reacher carry on like they’re old war buddies. It made no sense to me and I suspect that there may be an answer in a deleted scene somewhere. At least…I hope there is. Speaking of THAT gun battle, that is one area in which McQuarrie excels. The Way of the Gun features an awesome sniper duel, awesome due to the concise choreography and more impressively, the wicked sound design. In THAT regard, Jack Reacher is no different. The gunfire, the ricochets, the zips and hisses of passing bullets, the tinkle of spent brass…all sound great. The sound design also steps to center stage during a surprisingly exciting and messy car chase at the films mid-point. By messy, I mean that vehicles get beaten to shit at high speed (and sometimes low), and it all feels refreshingly spontaneous. The camera work and editing are aided greatly by the sounds of the roaring engines as they fly though the dark city streets, especially the meaty muscle car that Jack commandeers. Word has it that Cruise did his own stunt driving, which makes that scene all the more kick-ass. But despite all this good stuff, in the end there was something missing. SOMETHING failed to fully engage me in this story. It may have been that the interaction between the characters didn’t feel fleshed out enough to pull me fully into their world. I felt held at arms length from any sort of emotional core or sense of tangible urgency. There was something ‘flat’ to the whole narrative, despite some cool action and witty dialogue. Jack Reacher is a well filmed, at times exciting and funny thriller that could have benefited from a little more tightening of the overall narrative. It’s certainly not a bad film by ANY stretch of the imagination…but it’s unfortunately not as great as it’s pedigree suggests it COULD be.
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