Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Premise: An ex-military police officer (Tom Cruise) avails himself to the defense attorney of a former soldier framed for murder.
What Works: Jack Reacher combines the police procedural genre with the western and the result is a well-made thriller. It is less of a mystery and more of a conspiracy plot as the film reveals the setup in the opening scene and then focuses on the heroes’ attempt to get at the truth. The conspiracy unfolds nicely and is done intelligently enough that attentive viewers will be engaged even if they aren’t necessarily on the edge of their seats. There are a few well-choreographed fights and chases and they are executed in a way that maintains a level of reality consistent with post-Bourne Identity action cinema. What is more impressive than the ins-and-outs of the conspiracy is the way this film draws attention to the consequences of violence. Jack Reacher opens with the crime, in which a shooter picks off several apparently random people in a public place. Later in the picture the filmmakers replay the shooting but from different vantage points and after providing backstories for the victims. As a result, Jack Reacher is able to introduce a human dimension to the violence that most police procedurals rarely approach. This is part of an underlying question in the film, one that is answered ambiguously, about the justifications of violence. Jack Reacher is very much a classic western character; like Dirty Harry, John Rambo, and Jack Bauer he cuts through the red tape and delivers justice through a balled fist or the barrel of a gun. Reacher is contrasted with a pacifistic defense attorney, played by Rosamund Pike, who wants to fight for justice within the legal system. As the conspiracy unfolds the integrity of that system is questioned and there is an effective subplot between the defense counselor and the district attorney, played by Richard Jenkins.
What Doesn’t: The filmmakers’ dabbling in moral ambiguity is half-hearted and much of it falls to pieces in the ending. The film concludes with a showdown between Jack Reacher and the mastermind behind the murders, played by Werner Herzog. Herzog is appropriately threatening but his character is out of place in this movie. He comes across like an off-brand James Bond villain and he is inconsistent with the more staid and realistic tone of the rest of the film. The villain is also problematic because he is pure evil; there is nothing about him that is redeeming or hints of more complex motivations. The resolution of the conflict is especially disappointing and it is a copout by the filmmakers. A similar problem exists with the hero. Tom Cruise is good as Jack Reacher, bringing his usual charm and physicality to the role, but the character is indistinguishable from the unflappable action heroes from other Cruise movies like Mission: Impossible, Knight and Day,and Minority Report. Although the character recognizes the vicious and the evil in others he never recognizes it in himself and there is nothing to this character beneath the surface. Jack Reacher has clearly been made with the intent of setting up a franchise but the title character is not compelling enough to build a series around.
Bottom Line: Jack Reacher is a well-made thriller but it falls short of being more than that. Like many action films, the picture’s ethical pretensions collapse under inspection but it does pass as an entertaining detective story.
Episode: #422 (January 13, 2013)