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Film Review | Jack Reacher

Tom Cruise brings Lee Child’s beloved literary creation to life in this Christopher McQuarrie thriller. But is it worth the effort?

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
15 January 2013, 12:00am
“I am not a hero”: Tom Cruise plays rogue military investigator Jack Reacher in this adaptation of Lee Child’s novel One Shot.
“I am not a hero”: Tom Cruise plays rogue military investigator Jack Reacher in this adaptation of Lee Child’s novel One Shot.
 

Jack Reacher, a Tom Cruise vehicle adapted from the hugely popular airport thrillers by Lee Child, is a film aimed squarely at 'dads'.

You know what I'm talking about - meaty stories of justice executed swiftly by characters with a firm moral compass but nary a thought for the vagaries of the law.

Stories where men are men and women are women, where you can see the bad guy from a mile away and where the twists come thick and fast, keeping boredom at bay and assuring us of our hero's mental and physical prowess, as he disentangles them with rogueish panache.

It's every Clint Eastwood character; it's every film-noir detective of old. And while it's hardly surprising that the Lee Child novels featuring the titular character - now on book 17 - remain appealing to a mass audience, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) seems confused about what to do with such a potentially explosive crowd-pleaser, which starts with a chilling - and, strikingly, wordless - prologue.

A pristine morning on a bustling city embankment has just been tainted with blood - a sniper mercilessly mows down five random people, and the police - making a quick sweep of the evidence - zone in on their prime suspect: possibly shell-shocked Iraq war veteran James Barr (Joseph Sikora).

Led by Detective Emerson (perennial boo-hiss authority figure David Oyelowo) and overseen by District Attorney Alex Rodin (perennial fusspot Richard Jenkins) the authorities believe that the case will be resolved with no complications.

But the suspect is not so sure. Instead of pleading his innocence - we know he's being framed - he pens a simple message to his accusers: 'GET JACK REACHER'.



Waltzing into their offices just as the authorities are digging into his murky military past, Reacher (Tom Cruise), a former army investigator who is now "a drifter with nothing to lose" appears to have his own - crucial - insight into the case.

Sensing his impeccable intuitive powers, Barr's lawyer Helen (Rosamund Pike) - who is also the District Attorney's daughter - underhandedly 'hires' Reacher as her own private investigator, risking her professional reputation.

But what Reacher uncovers - a web of conspiracy leading back to a nefarious Russian crime lord known only as the Zec (Werner Herzog) - could put their lives in danger.

I'm as tired as most people inevitably are of cloying politically correct, 'gritty', 'realistic' takes on what are essentially fantasy-fulfilment franchises - fer chrissakes, even James Bond, previously a totem of old-world masculinity, fell prey to that trap - and while it's admirable that McQuarrie takes a decidedly vintage approach to vigilante of choice, he doesn't really see to the fact that something so obstinately old school can come across as, well... just a bit boring.

This, despite some attention-grabbing casting choices and a story that could potentially crackle with energy if given a judicious cinematic treatment.

Tom Cruise isn't exactly the most popular personality at the moment - if he is, it's for all the wrong reasons. But despite yet another very public divorce caused in no small part by his insistent espousal of the Scientology loony-cult, he succeeds in focusing his substantial experience as a Hollywood star to create a flinty and instantly likeable hero (even though he insists, at a key point in the story, that he isn't one). There's plenty of swagger and heroic posturing that's clearly there to boost Cruise's ego and consolidate his recently fraught pulic persona - significantly, he also serves as producer here - but it's an attitude that's also perfectly in line with Child's beloved creation.

So it's a pity that he never quite gets the bad guy he deserves or, more to the point, that Herzog's Zec gets very little screen time, with a potentially great back story - whispers of his tortured soujourn in a Soviet gulag - being reduced to brief, unsatisfying sketches. The casting of Herzog - a cult German filmmaker and a fringe character in his own right - was an off-the-wall move; sadly, that's the only bit of genuinely inspired creativity on display.

British actress Rosamund Pike, a veteran of safe period dramas, does the film no favours either, and only highlights McQuarrie's brittle grasp on the source material. True, it's a simple, stock role, but this also means that it could easily have been elevated by a buoyant performance.

Instead we get zero chemistry with our two leads, and a consistently blank-eyed heroine-that-wasn't whom we can't care for - because she doesn't appear to be entirely aware of what's going on around her in the first place - and who appears so keen to show off her cleavage (even when on the job) that you're left to wonder why the brutally honest (and womansing) Reacher never makes a joke of it.

Had Reacher been snappier and more secure about where it was headed, it would have been an old-school thriller to sink our teeth into with gusto. As it stands, McQuarrie's attempt to bring Lee Child's popular creation to the big screen falters where it should sprint ahead.

Maybe it would be better to take your dad to Skyfall, actually...

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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