Saturday, December 29, 2012

"Jack Reacher" (2012)

Starring Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike and Jai Courtney
Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language, drug use
Running Time: 130 Minutes

When a former Army sniper, James Barr (Joseph Sikora), is arrested for the brutal slaying of five innocent people in Pittsburgh, the police believe they have an airtight case. Given the opportunity to confess, he writes only three words: "Get Jack Reacher."

But Reacher (Tom Cruise) is no easy man to find. He's a drifter, with no address, no drivers license, no cell phone. Luckily, Reacher knows where to find them. Reacher has a past with Barr, one that compels him to seek out he truth when he suspects that the evidence against Barr is a little too perfect. Together with Barr's lawyer, Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), who also happens to be the daughter of the powerful district attorney (Richard Jenkins), Reacher sets out to find the real killer. But the closer he gets, the more dangerous the situation grows.

But whoever is behind this conspiracy and whatever it is they're after, they made one mistake - they tried to mess with Jack Reacher.

Based on the novel "One Shot," this is the second film directed by screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie.  And it is rather good. The film has a sort of old-school feel to it, from its film score to the way McQuarrie uses his camera, to the lack of grand CGI special effects in any of the action sequences.

But lets get this out of the way first: Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher. When that casting was announced, it caused an uproar amongst the Reacher fandom, as these things often do. In Lee Child's novels, Jack Reacher is a behemoth of a man, a 6'5" blonde tank. Tom Cruise is, obviously, neither of those things. Which leaves us with the other aspects of his character: that Jack Reacher is very, very intelligent and very, very badass. This is what Cruise nails. Cruise drops his trademark nice-guy-smirk routine, spends much of the movie being kind of a jerk. What's fun about this is that he's not really a jerk, but people react to him like he is because he doesn't respond the way people normally would. He's constantly breaking people's assumptions about him, usually because they underestimate him, and he keenly takes advantage of that.  He also has incredible situational awareness. So as a character, Jack Reacher is a joy to watch on screen, even if he has Tom Cruise's face.

Back to the film, the rest of the cast is all game, too. Reacher at first finds an ally in Detective Emerson (David Oyelowo), but that relationship sours, and Oyelowo puts the right intensity into it. He looks down on Reacher, right up to the end, and is unrepentant for it. Famed director Warner Herzog appears as the film's ultimate mastermind villain, and he is chilling and creepy. His screentime is limited, but he makes the best of every scene he's in. Likewise, Robert Duvall appears as a gun range owner who helps out Reacher in the second half of the film and he gets some of the film's best lines.

Rosamund Pike does well enough, but one of the places where the script falters is that it sometimes saddles her with too much expository dialogue, as though it feels we need her to announce the twists we've already deduced for ourselves by paying attention.

Special mention should also go to Jai Courtney, who plays Herzog's henchman. Courtney was great in "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" and will next appear as Bruce Willis' son in "A Good Day to Die Hard." I think he's got the chops for action, and I hope to see him getting more work.

The film isn't heavy on action; it sprinkles a few bits here or there, then puts its biggest bets on the climax. McQuarrie and his photographers keep the camera steady, so we always know exactly what's happening, even when Reacher's fists are moving faster than seems possible. Of special note is a car chase sequence which features real cars doing real stunts... and Tom Cruise really driving behind the wheel.  McQuarrie isn't afraid to prove it to us by mounting his camera on the hood and showing Cruise ripping down the streets of Pittsburgh. Though simple in its construction, the chase is thrilling because it feels so real.

McQuarrie also wrote the script. It's mostly very good, full of crackling dialogue and wit. But it occasionally stumbles, as previously mentioned with the Helen character. But also, for example, the end of that car chase ends in a manner that is fun to watch but ultimately I'm not sure makes much sense. You can see it in the trailer, as Reacher hides in a crowd at a bus stop. But why do these people protect him? If there's an answer, it wasn't clear to me. Is Reacher taking advantage of the public apathy? It's not just that they don't point him out to the cops, they actively assist in hiding him from them.

Still, "Jack Reacher" is mostly a fun, finely constructed film. It's not the greatest thriller ever made, and it doesn't break much new ground. But like its titular character, it's cleverer than you might think.