Film Score: Joe Kraemer Cinematography: Caleb Deschanel
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins and Robert Duvall
Lee Child’s reclusive protagonist, Jack Reacher, to the big screen. After all, this film is actually based on the ninth book in a series that first began back in 1997. Whether or not the series pans out--like the Bourne franchise--or dies out--like Angelina Jolie’s Salt--remains to be seen, but the good news is a sequel is in development. Like most big stars, Tom Cruise can do some duds along with his great films. This is one of the good ones. Cruise’s production company purchased the rights to the book and it’s a great fit for the star. Instead of the usual panicked, running from danger Cruise we’re all used to, here he’s a calm and confident action hero. Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie has had a relationship with Tom Cruise for several years now, penning Valkyrie as well as his latest sci-fi hit Edge of Tomorrow, and is set to direct Mission Impossible 5. Whatever else this familiarity does, it also provides a certain consistency of product that promises to make this franchise a very good one.
The opening of the film is impressive, nearly ten minutes with no dialogue while we follow a white van into a parking garage in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the same time flashbacks of a gunman with a bruised thumb making his own bullets in his basement are alternated with the shots of him driving with latex gloves on. After he arrives at the top floor of the garage, parks, and puts a quarter in the meter, Jai Courtney gets out of the van with his rifle and begins picking off random people walking in the morning sun by the river. Next, police detective David Oyelowo arrives on the scene, checks out the shooter’s nest, finds a shell casing and the quarter, and once a match is made on the fingerprints the police break into the killer’s house and make the arrest. Everything seems cut and dried for Oyelowo and district attorney Richard Jenkins, as well as for the audience. That is, until the suspect turns out to be Joseph Sikora instead of Courtney. The only thing he’ll say to his captors in his defense is “Get Jack Reacher.” Meanwhile Tom Cruise, as the title character, has already seen Sikora’s face on the news and heads immediately to Pittsburgh. Jenkins and Oyelowo want to know why Sikora requested him, but he won’t tell them. Sikora’s defense attorney, Rosamund Pike, wants to hire him and he agrees, at first just to confirm to her that Sikora is the killer, but eventually to prove his innocence.
One of the best things about the film is the intelligence of the screenplay. Christopher McQuarrie won an Oscar back in 1995 for The Usual Suspects, and after nearly a decade with very little activity has returned to write some great feature films. Cruise’s character is smart, but not in the way of most action heroes where he can seemingly get out of any predicament. He uses his brain not to get into predicaments in the first place, and that is incredibly refreshing. Much of that is obviously due to the writing of Lee Childs, but it definitely translates well to the screen. In one terrific fight scene Cruise is called out by a bunch of local toughs. He tries to warn them that they don’t have a chance of winning, but with five against one they believe the odds are in their favor. That’s when Cruise informs them it’s really only three to one, that once he takes out the leader, Josh Helman, a couple brave souls will continue but the rest will run. Then, in a moment right out of The Matrix Reloaded when Keanu Reeves says “Hmm, upgrades,” none of the rest scatter when Cruise puts down the first two men, and suddenly he realizes that the entire fight has been a setup. Another wonderful moment happens after the unique car chase, when Cruise simply steps out of the slowly moving vehicle and walks into the crowd, disappearing with the help of strangers.
Another great aspect of the film is the casting. Many of the principals are British, but they do a solid job here supporting the American stars. Rosamund Pike is a great foil for Cruise, and the fact that her father, Richard Jenkins, is the district attorney is a nice complication. And it’s always wonderful to see the underrated Jenkins, who even played a sniper himself in the Clint Eastwood film Absolute Power. The evil villain in all of this is the great German director Werner Herzog, playing a former Soviet concentration camp victim who has embraced the “opportunities” of capitalism. David Oyelowo is probably the weakest of the principals for my taste. Though he tries to be menacing in the role, his sunny countenance and small stature work against him. Jai Courtney is solid as Herzog’s hit man and his confidence is equal to that of Cruise. Unfortunately for him, his skill set isn’t. And finally, the presence of Robert Duvall in the finale really elevates that part of the film. The screenplay gives him perhaps a bit too much eccentricity, but this also adds some humor to the ending, which is unexpected and works well. Jack Reacher is a solid action film that takes the genre in an intelligent direction, a welcome change for a style of films that tend to do the opposite.