Jack Reacher should have been a great movie. It’s based on the series, now at 17 novels, by Lee Child about the 6’5″ drifter who wanders the country with nothing but a foldable toothbrush and his ATM card. The former Army police Major, retired in 1997, merely buys a new shirt if he needs one. Otherwise, he rinses out his clothes in the sink wherever he ends up staying. Women find him immensely attractive, even though his frequent response to any question is to shrug or say nothing.
Reacher always finds himself in a situation where he decides to help the needy and fight the bad guys. Often he gets rid of the bad guys without waiting for the slowly turning wheels of justice to start rolling, a kind of moral efficiency that can make some people queasy, me included. As difficult and inefficient as it is to bring people to justice, I like my heroes to have to deal with that fact of life rather than blow people’s heads off. I’m in the minority—the series is extremely popular and readers seem to love Jack Reacher and the way he handles reality.
I was curious as to how 5’6″ Tom Cruise was going to play 6’5″Jack Reacher. He did fine, capturing the character’s essence and not worrying about being too short.
I was also very excited to see this movie because the writer/director wrote my favorite movie, The Usual Suspects in 1995. I anticipated a complicated plot where nobody is who they seem and around every corner is another twist. Alas, although the script had a few surprises in it, it was by and large perfunctory, never really offering a wow-I -didn’t-see-that-coming moment.
The opening scene was great, and horrendous, especially considering recent headlines. A military vet sniper sets up, looks through his scope and proceeds to fire long range bullets into a lunchtime crowd, killing people at random. There’s a business woman going up the stairs of the courthouse, a man with a bouquet sitting on a bench, a woman who had just bought a man’s watch walking toward him, a vivacious nanny holding a little girl. No connection between these people, we assume–all shot at random.
The police are convinced they’ve found the killer and arrest him. He claims he’s innocent, despite his fingerprint on a quarter slipped into a nearby parking meter. But before he can proceed too far down the pathways of justice, he’s beaten to a pulp and falls into a coma. All he can manage to say is “Find Jack Reacher.”
The suspect’s defense attorney is Helen (Rosamund Pike), a beautiful young woman who, like everyone else, is convinced the suspect is guilty, but she is driven, over the objection of her powerful father, the county prosecutor (Richard Jenkins) to give the man a fair trial. Also objecting to her decision is the only leading black official in the city, police homicide inspector Emerson (David Oyelowo).
Reacher shows up without anyone contacting him. He’s kind of like that. A mysterious hero who just appears, kind of like Merlin. He informs Helen that he does not want to clear the suspect, he wants to bury him. He hates the guy. He was a sniper in the army who went nuts one day and killed innocent people but was never prosecuted. Reacher wants to see the guy found guilty and executed –the only problem is that Reacher is a brilliant investigator and within a few minutes he becomes convinced that the suspect is innocent. So Reacher has to find out who really is the mass murderer, and why he did it.
Of course he runs into betrayal, and conspiracy, and nothing being what it seems, and maybe it wasn’t a random murder after all…and then there’s a really sicko bad guy named The Zec, played with reptilian fervor by director Werner Herzog, who chewed his fingers off when he was a prisoner in some Eastern Europe or Russian nightmare prison. And a bunch of his countrymen, with names like Vlad and Linksky, who are really nasty companions.
Meanwhile Reacher, who has eyes in the back of his head from all those years as a military investigator, keeps barely escaping from the guys who are trying to bump him off—and why are they trying to do that? What truth is he getting close to? And is he ever really going to grab Rosamund Pike, who because she was pregnant during filming, looks like she’s going to fall out of the top of her blouse, and lock lips at least once?
The film poses a lot of good questions which, with a different director perhaps, might have worked to make a good movie. Alas, it seems that McQuarrie is a brilliant writer but just a novice director, so the film has lots of promise but ends up missing its targets. Some scenes are terrific, well-paced with punchy dialogue, and the next scene is flat and people talk stupid. It’s like they got a re-write man in at the last minute who ruined everything McQuarrie had already written but at the point he took over as director, he had so much on his mind that he couldn’t re-do the script. Who knows? That scenario is as good as any to explain the inconsistent nature of the film.
One of the most frustrating parts of the film is when you finally find out who betraying bad guy is, you say “duh?” Why did this character give in to his shadow side? And when? No answers and a big plot hole.
By this time, you’re wondering, will Reacher allow pretty Helen to do the right thing and defend the defenseless, or will he just make short shrift of a guy who isn’t worth spending taxpayer dollars on?
Bottom line: Unless you’re an incorrigible Reacher fan, wait until the film comes out on DVD. You’ll enjoy it more knowing you saved a few dollars and all the extras that are bound to be included in the DVD could prove very interesting. And make a nice build up to the next Reacher film, which I’m sure will be announced sometime soon. Despite some critical drubbing, the film did well.