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Movie Review ~ Jack Reacher

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A homicide investigator digs deeper into a case involving a trained military sniper who shot five random victims.

Stars: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, Richard Jenkins, Alexia Fast, Robert Duvall, Jai Courtney, Werner Herzog

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 130 minutes

Trailer Review: Here and Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  There are times when reviews of films tell you to ‘lower your expectations’ as way to soften the blow of an anticipated/hyped movie to expectant audiences.  With Jack Reacher, my direction to you may be to ‘raise your expectations’…because what we have here is an immensely entertaining popcorn flick that showcases another strong 2012 performance from Mr. Cruise.  Cruise has gotten such a bad rap in the last few years thanks to his infamous couch jumping moment, his devotion to Scientology, and a string of movies that seemed to be vanity showcases rather than actual performances.

The first movie I reviewed on this blog was my second viewing of Cruise’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and it signaled a welcome change in the box office star.  Perhaps humbled by middling box office returns of his high profile projects, Cruise seemed to come back to his Mission: Impossible character with a fresh attitude and relaxed stance.  Now 50 years old, Cruise was excellent in an otherwise woefully miscalculated big screen adaptation of Broadway’s Rock of Ages this summer and he’s ending 2012 in perhaps his best performance yet.

With Jack Reacher, it’s interesting that Cruise is once again at the center of a fan uprising in relation to him playing a loved character that he doesn’t exactly fit the description of.  Like the movie version of Interview with a Vampire (when author Anne Rice famously spoke out against the casting of Cruise as the vampire Lestat but then more famously ate her words when she saw the final product) as written Cruise is nowhere in the vicinity of the 6’5”, 220 pound grizzled former Military Police Major originally conceived by author Lee Child in his series of novels. 

Having seen the film but not having read the novels, I can’t say that my ire was too up because Cruise dives headfirst into the role and relishes the chance to play a character with more grit than grin.  This is a man who has seen the horrors of war and what it can do to people; he’s been in some dark places and can’t help but be affected by it. Instead of making Reacher a tortured, haunted soul, Cruise instead takes a more interesting approach, making him a straight-forward no-nonsense kind of guy – one that probably knows the answers to any questions he’s asking but is giving someone the opportunity to tell the truth before handing down justice.

After winning on Oscar for writing the screenplay for The Usual Suspects, director McQuarrie has kept a fairly low profile these past years.  His first time in the director seat in twelve years, McQuarrie does double duty as director and adapted the script with it’s wonderful ear for dialogue.  McQuarrie has always had a way with words and certain phrases/exchanges in Jack Reacher are so on the money that my jaw dropped a few times in a mixture of delight and shock. 

Even with a nice zip to the dialogue, McQuarrie does stumble with more than a few awkward set-ups and clichéd circumstances that can pull the involved audience member back to reality.  Most of these come courtesy of a pretty defense attorney Helen Rodin (Pike , Die Another Day) that employs Reacher when her client asks for him by name.  Pike, who barely masks her UK accent by going for a gravely rasp (‘like a female Christian Bale’ my movie mate pointed out), has some great moments with Cruise but has just as many clunkers when left to her own devices to carry a scene.  She’s always two steps behind the plot and the audience which can make for frustrating viewing.

McQuarrie has packed his film with fascinating looking actors…many of them unfamiliar to larger audiences.  Acclaimed German filmmaker Herzog even does a little acting here as a scary character named The Zec.  It’s true that much of Herzog’s dialogue tends to the overly dramatic but coming from a man with missing fingers and a dead eye, it fits nicely.  Courtney is an evil treat as a deadly sniper and there is good supporting work from Oyelowo and Jenkins as law and order representatives working against Reacher and Helen.  Duvall shows up in a fun supporting role well into the films 130 minute running time…I would have maybe liked to see the Oscar winner as a surprise cameo because when a star like him is mentioned in the credits you start to wonder when he’s going to make his appearance.

Pushing the limits of its PG-13 rating (which was generous considering some of the extreme violence), McQuarrie and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel don’t break any new ground with composition but they do stage some mighty fine action sequences…most notably a chase scene that takes us on a rough ride with Cruise around the city streets as he pursues a lead.  With a very unobtrusive (and sometimes downright absent) score by Joe Kraemer, McQuarrie lets the scenes explode rather than merely simmer. 

The opening of the film plays a central part in the story and it’s a case of unfortunately bad timing.  By no fault of the filmmakers, Jack Reacher is being released just a week after a terrible tragedy of gun violence that has much of the country reeling.  The sniper event and other passages involving guns absolutely put me on edge and I found myself holding my breath on several occasions.  Audience reaction to the film may be dampened by recent events but I urge you to not fault the movie for its unlucky release date.

The character of Jack Reacher has surfaced in seventeen novels so far (this is based on One Shot, the ninth entry) and based on Cruise’s performance and McQuarrie’s invested direction/script I’d welcome the chance to see more of Mr. Reacher should this be the box office success Paramount Pictures is hoping for.  After 2013’s Oblivion and All You Need is Kill, Cruise is rumored to be teaming up with McQuarrie for Mission: Impossible 5 so we may have to wait a bit…but if a sequel is half as good as this Cruise may have found another hit franchise he can settle into.

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