December should be handed over to Tom Cruise at this point. Last year’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was a return to form for the M:I series, with Cruise pumping enough thrills and action into the film to deem it worthy of praise and now this year he teams up with director Christopher McQuarrie for Jack Reacher. The film establishes its tone and purpose right out of the gate, giving you plenty of laughs as well as Cruise beating up groups of heavily armed nameless henchmen. Jack Reacher is simple, to-the-point and damn entertaining.
Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is a ghost. He’s got a military record to prove that he’s a force not to be reckoned with, but he’s mostly a drifter that surfaces from time to time. Most recently he’s been non-existent for two years, until a soldier who he served with is charged with the killing of innocent people. From all angles this looks like a clean-cut case of a nutcase going off the deep end with his sniper rifle, but immediately after getting thrown into jail the suspect asks for one man and that man is Jack Reacher.
Defense lawyer Helen (Rosamund Pike) cooperates with Reacher in order to get answers that she didn’t even know she had questions for. Her own father happens to be the District Attorney going against her (Rodin played by Richard Jenkins) and a cop by the name of Emerson (David Oyelowo) is also loosely involved.
From the legal side of the law these are the players that Reacher has to deal with, but then there’s also the shady and mysterious man known only as The Zec (Werner Herzog). Zec lurks in the shadows as he gets his hired thugs like Charlie (Jai Courtney) to investigate this Jack Reacher character and see if he’ll be able to break their possible setup.
This is where McQuarrie’s basic action film gets a little dose of much-needed flavor. From the start Jack Reacher operates strictly as your basic Tom Cruise action picture. There’s an action scene here and there, plus a little investigating and interacting with the innocent bystanders that get thrown into the messy case.
But then McQuarrie introduces characters like The Zec and moments like Reacher getting in a sloppy house fight that results in lots of laughter and hard-hits. See, Jack Reacher isn’t a dead-serious Cruise film at all. It’s actually a really funny one that has no problem showing its true colors.
Cruise’s Reacher is without a doubt a bad-ass, but he’s one with a great sense of humor. He’s almost always cracking a joke in moments that most action films would pump up the serious chit-chat. Cruise understands how to make Reacher stand out from other iconic action roles and by doing so he creates a character that you’re actually looking forward to. Not just someone that can kick the asses of five men at once, but someone that isn’t afraid to stick around afterwards to try and convince the cops that he was only defending himself.
The rest of the cast fills the shoes of their characters just fine, but no one really pops out at you like Tom Cruise. Well, maybe Werner Herzog as the over-the-top and hokey master villain that is literally introduced by way of dark shadows. He comes packaged with a ridiculous back story and an eye that will give you nightmares. Herzog plays his character with a laughable accent that only adds to the entire film’s mood, which is to never take anything seriously. He goes a little overboard every now and again, but he does it within reason.
Christopher McQuarrie films the shooting and car-chases with a spectacular amount of control over the camera. Most of the hand-to-hand fighting is shot with a realistic spin on it. Sure, Cruise himself couldn’t beat the living snot out of these ripped and roided men, but a man with proper training could. McQuarrie never shies away from showing you a complete fight and not just one where the good guy is the only one getting the good shots in. Reacher takes a fair amount of damage during his multiple run-ins with Zec’s thugs and he handles himself appropriately.
McQuarrie restrains from using the zoomed-in and in-your-face approach that most action directors use today and it’s a refreshing feeling. The only complaint is that the fights are quick and rarely the focus of the scene. They’re still brutal and pushing of the PG-13 rating.
The extended car-chase scenes also help push this film above mediocrity. Cruise apparently did all of his own driving and that allows for McQuarrie to get up close and personal with the camera, without worrying about revealing a stuntman. Cruise has no problem cruising around and making it look easy. Muscle cars rip down the streets going at dangerous speeds and not once does McQuarrie fail to capture that intensity.
All of this praise might almost be too much for something as simple as Jack Reacher. The film gets by on knowing exactly what it’s trying to do and to some that might not be enough. I can see lots of people picking a bone with Herzog’s acting choice and that’s fair enough. I personally enjoyed his approach, but I didn’t care for where they went with the actual character. He sort of establishes importance early on, only to show up at random and then to get shoved out pretty fast.
But if you take out Herzog’s Zec then you’re left with not a single bad guy with a name. Jack Reacher is reminiscent of 80s/90s action films with one main bad guy that rarely does any of the talking, but is always pulling the strings in some form. He gets nameless henchmen to do all of his work and Reacher has no problem picking them off in a deadly manner. If you’re okay with that then you shouldn’t worry about a thing, because Jack Reacher has you covered.
Christopher McQuarrie covers all of the bases. He’s got enough action scattered throughout to keep you occupied and engaged and a simple and easy to follow story that keeps everything moving. Tom Cruise is absolutely perfect as Reacher, because he’s charming and funny and yet still not afraid to punch your teeth in. And he does just that, while not once making you question if he could really pull it off at his age.
At this rate I hope Cruise continues to work on the Reacher and Mission: Impossible franchises simultaneously. The guy clearly has no problems playing these roles and he’s damn good at it. I wouldn’t mind living in a world where we switch off between sequels every other year.
Jack Reacher is an easy film to like. The light and enjoyable dialogue mixes well with the brute force action. It’s simple, amusing and productive. A hearty action film in every way that counts.
Jack Reacher – 8/10