Thursday, December 27, 2012


I enjoyed the new Tom Cruise thriller “Jack Reacher," and I'm not a big Tom Cruise fan.   Since I rarely have enough time to read the right stuff, I haven’t perused any of the seventeen Jack Reacher novels about a former U.S. Army investigator who roams the country like a lone wolf.  Sounds like Cruise is prospecting for another franchise to topline.  Award-winning, bestselling author Lee Child--who writes those novels--is an interesting fellow himself.  Actually, Jim Grant is his real name, and he was born in 1954. A former Granada Television producer, he hails from Great Britain, but has since moved to America.  He has acknowledged that Cruise looks nothing like his literary character.  Nevertheless, he has nothing but praise this Hollywood adaptation by writer & director Christopher McQuarrie.  Chris Hemsworth, Dwayne Johnson, and Liam Neeson might have been better as Child's hero.  Meantime, this intelligent but contrived murder/mystery couldn’t have been released at a more inopportune time.  It will be interesting to see how other 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 of aggression.  No maniacs break into elementary schools and murder innocent lambs without a qualm. As exemplary as "Jack Reacher" is, this Paramount Pictures release doesn't eclipse better 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 attractive leading lady Rosamund 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 series “Person of Interest.”  Resourceful guys like these two live off the grid.  The chief difference is Reacher shuns the kind of high tech support Reese has in the form of computer genius Harold Finch. 

When a deadly sniper guns down several people in broad daylight without warning in Pittsburgh, the local authorities get a break and capture the unsuspecting assassin.  The local District Attorney tries to bully a confession out of their suspect, ex-Army sniper James Barr (Joseph Sikora of “Safe”), but Barr 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 when everybody least expects him. Moments as coincidental as these made me roll my eyes.  Reacher discusses the case 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 both Helen and the D.A. that he is not a defense witness.  He explains to Helen that Barr left the Army after going on a shooting spree when he didn’t have a chance to rack up any kills in his overseas 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 as a trained sniper.  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, i.e., the Office of the District Attorney. 

Make no mistake, “Jack Reacher” isn’t a high-octane actioneer, but it is both believable and reasonably complex.  McQuarrie keeps our trim, clean-cut hero jumping through flaming hoops throughout most of the action.  An exciting, urban car chase 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 as the District Attorney and David Oyelowo as a Pittsburgh detective, are good.  “Jack Reacher” is worth seeing at least once in a movie theater.

Tom Cruise discusses the case with Rosamund Pike while Lee Child, making a cameo as a Pittsburgh policeman, watches them.

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