Release Date: December 21, 2012
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Writers: Christopher McQuarrie (screenplay), Lee Child (book)
Stars: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike and Richard Jenkins
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Jack Reacher could have worked. The set up of the film, based on a novel by Lee Child, is intriguing enough to work, though it’s potential is squandered. But even after the whole thing devolves into a clichéd action movie, it still could have worked as mindless fun, though, at two hours and 10 minutes, it overstays its welcome and ends up being so terribly dull and unambitious that by the finale you’ll be checking your watch instead of getting lost in the gunfire.
In the film’s opening scene, a gunman takes out five strangers in a public park. The incident appears to be an open and shut case as shell casings and fingerprints are found at the scene and the gunman’s license plate is clearly visible on a security camera. In custody, the suspect refuses to confess, despite the overwhelming evidence. Instead, he simply asks for Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise).
Reacher, we are told through a clunky chunk of exposition between lead detective Emerson (David Oyelowo) and District Attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins), is a former military investigator who now lives as a drifter with no permanent address or driver’s license. Living off the grid, Reacher wanders from town to town on buses like Kwai Chang Caine in Kung Fu or Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk.
Though Emerson and Rodin have no way of contacting Reacher, he shows up in town on his own and begins poking around the case. The district attorney’s daughter, Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), decides to represent the suspect and she hires Reacher as her lead investigator. Reacher is perplexed that the suspect would reach out to him for help, since Reacher once investigated him for a similar military crime. But it doesn’t take long for Reacher to believe he’s an innocent pawn of a vast conspiracy.
It’s a set up that could have worked, but unfortunately the film isn’t interested in exploring it. After establishing how involved the conspiracy is to set up the shooter and establishing the complex motive for the orchestrated murders, this incredibly careful criminal organization is suddenly content to engage in car chases and massive shootout with Reacher.
Werner Herzog plays The Zec, a mysterious figure who is pulling the strings. In a great scene with Michael Raymond-James, he explains that he chewed off his own fingers to avoid being murdered years ago. He offers his victims the same choice, though they always choose murder. Like so much else in the movie, it’s a great scene and an interesting idea, but there’s never a real payoff to it. You at least expect to see him give Reacher that choice so that our hero can find a clever way out of it, but instead the film abandons the gimmick altogether.
The film is much more interested in coming up with witty one-liners for Reacher to spout off and reasons for him to either engage in car chases, shootouts or fist fights. The car chases are particularly bizarre, since the film makes a big point of saying that Reacher doesn’t have a license. He asks permission from people to borrow their cars, but the film doesn’t explain how he gets away with driving if he isn’t licensed.
The most enjoyable action scene is a fight between Reacher and five local tough guys in the parking lot of a bar. The lead instigator asks Reacher how he’s going to win a fight against five guys. Reacher explains that he only has to beat three of them and the other two will get scared and run off, which is exactly what happens. It’s a fun “Babe Ruth calling his shot” type moment that establishes what a bad ass Reacher is.
The rest of the action scenes aren’t as much fun. The final shootout is such a clunky mess that it’s a chore to sit through it. Of course, by that point the film has already used up all of the good will it established early on and it just starts to drag in general.
The other thing working against this film is something completely outside the control of the filmmakers. Because of the recent tragedy in Connecticut, many viewers may have trouble with the film’s subject matter. That opening scene is shot mainly from the sniper’s perspective. We see through the scope of his gun as he seeks out his victims. It’s very uncomfortable to watch with the Newtown shootings in the back of your mind. Again, this is out of the control of writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, but it’s worth noting since it’s certain to be upsetting to many viewers.
Jack Reacher does feature some enjoyable performances. Tom Cruise gives a charismatic and entertaining performance. Robert Duvall is fantastic in a brief cameo. Richard Jenkins is always solid, though he isn’t given much to do in this film. And Jai Courtney, who plays the villain Charlie, showed glimpses that he could be poised to be a major player in Hollywood.
In the end though, Jack Reacher just feels disappointing. There are times when it is clever or funny or thrilling, but unfortunately those moments are few and far between. It had a lot of potential, but ultimately falls far short of what it’s capable of.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.