In Jack Reacher, a former military police officer turned off-the-grid-bad boy, Jack Reacher (played by Tom Cruise) assists a lawyer, Helen (Rosamund Pike), in defending James Barr (Joseph Sikora). James is accused of shooting and killing five random people at a stadium.
When James is apprehended by police, instead of making a confession, he tells them to get Reacher. At which point, the plot thickens.
Reacher and Helen go on a chase to prove first that James is guilty, then to prove that Reacher is innocent. All the while, each plot point of this mystery gets pieced together, frame-by-frame, ending in a climax that no one saw coming. In other words, it’s the classic thriller.
Based on the bestselling series by Lee Child, screenwriter/director Christopher McQuarrie crafts a story that introduces Reacher for the inevitable film franchise and makes Cruise less of a societal leper – what with all of that Scientology talk.
Reacher is the kind of film we don’t see very often in movie theaters. It plays like the thrillers of the 1990s. Think Pelican Brief and The Firm. These kinds of movies keep you on your toes, give you a thinking Everyman hero to root for, and keep you guessing all the way up to the end. We should have more films like this. Sure, it’s fun to see all of the action-packed adventure stories with larger-than-life superheroes. But those films are all about the 3D animation and special effects. A film like Reacher doesn’t need 3D to be interesting.
Speaking of interest, there are a few characters of interest that make this movie more than just a thriller. It’s actually pretty funny. Take Cruise, whose sense of humor every now and then comes out and is refreshing. Think Tropic Thunder with Cruise’s hip-hop dancing movie mogul.
Jai Courtney, who plays Reacher’s resident bad guy/enforcer Charlie, first saw fame as Varro in Starz’s Spartacus. In that film Courtney played a good-natured, tough gladiator. In Reacher he is a ruthless, tough hit man, but also gives depth to an otherwise run-of-the-mill bad guy. To pull off both types of roles shows his range as an actor. Courtney will also star in the latest Die Hard film as Bruce Willis’ son. Now that he’s acted opposite Cruise to good effect, it will be interesting to see how well he plays with Willis.
Pike as Helen is good at looking scared and doe-eyed, and quivers with just the right amount of lip-twitching to make the audience think Helen is afraid. Personally, I like female characters to be stronger and more fierce-eyed, but Pike’s Helen will do for this action film.
David Oyelowo’s Detective Emerson is a bit of a mystery. At first, he comes off as a few missed clues short of a good detective. Then Emerson segues into something different that doesn’t actually fit with the character. There were no cues to show that Emerson would affect that kind of change. And McQuarrie didn’t make the effort to explain to his audience why Emerson ended up the way he did.
However, Oyelowo manages to pull off the clunky personality change; sort of. Robert Duvall takes a turn as Cash, the owner of the gun range where James likes to do target practice. Cash is an old coot who’s been around long enough to have babysat Moses, but he’s still sharp as can be.
The best thing about Duvall’s portrayal of Cash is how much fun he seems to have, which makes him a more engaging and fun-to-watch character. He also serves as the NRA-like side of the gun-control debate that has been raging in this country.
Most of Child’s characters are fleshed out to make them engaging and Jack Reacher is sure to be a fan favorite. However, if McQuarrie should make the next Reacher, attention to detail in terms of minor characters and his female lead is much needed to make the story the best it can be. Nitpicking aside, McQuarrie has made it easy to invest the time and money in the Reacher franchise.