Jack Reacher


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Jack Reacher
"Make no mistake: despite the big cast, this is the sort of thriller you can safely snooze through on a plane, connecting with ease the dots between the clichéd fights and chases."

One sunny day on a riverside promenade in Pittsburgh, five pedestrians are shot dead by a lone gunman in what appears to be a random killing spree. The fingerprints of James Barr (Jospeh Sikora), an ex-army sniper with a murderous past, are found at the scene, making the case "open and shut". Barr maintains his silence before the investigating police lieutenant Emerson (David Oyelowo) and the DA Rodin (Richard Jenkins), but writes down three words of request: "Get Jack Reacher."

Up until this point, the film, too, has largely chosen images over speech, economically unfolding its set-up without recourse to dialogue or commentary – but once Reacher (Tom Cruise), a Military Police investigator turned 'ghost' drifter featured in 17 novels by Lee Child, turns up and starts making noise, the film (based on Child's 2005 book One Shot) goes from brisk efficiency to subpar Elmore Leonard faster than a speeding bullet. Make no mistake: despite the big cast, this is the sort of thriller you can safely snooze through on a plane, connecting with ease the dots between the clichéd fights and chases.

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It need not have been that way. Apply some CSI-style forensics to the structure of the film, and there is the skeleton of an interesting idea beneath all the flash and procedural play. Reacher might have been an ambiguous Dark Knight figure, a repository for our anxieties and fantasies about the workings of justice – but instead the film seems unequivocally to endorse Reacher's extra-judicial activities, leaving little room for questioning.

Near the end of the film – and this is hardly a spoiler, as it is in the trailer – we hear someone say of Reacher: "There's this guy. He's a kind of cop. At least he used to be. He doesn't care about the law. He doesn't care about proof. He only cares about what's right." The contradictions inherent in this assessment were, in fact, brought to the fore at the moment Reacher entered the film, determined, having failed once before to secure a conviction against Barr, 'to bury him'.

To Reacher's insistence, "Trust me, James Barr's guilty," defense lawyer Helen (Rosamund Pike) protests, not unreasonably, "You haven't even seen the evidence." And once Reacher does begin looking at the evidence, he becomes just as convinced of Barr's innocence as he was earlier certain of the veteran's guilt. Maybe pesky concepts such as law and proof have something to do with justice after all – yet as Reacher carries out his investigations off the grid and does not flinch at the odd cold-blooded execution, the film prefers to lionise his reactionary brand of vigilantism, making him a murder-happy Batman or a freelance Dredd, but with none of the associated self-examining irony. For it seems that Jack Reacher wants us simply to like its protagonist, and to approve of all that he does.

Part of the problem is the involvement of Cruise. It is not so much the discrepancy between his diminutive height and the hulking dimensions of Child's original protagonist, but more the actor's filmography of cocky self-assurance, which writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (unlike, say Michael Mann in Collateral or PT Anderson in Magnolia) does nothing to undermine. On the contrary, all the profile shots here of Cruise in medium close-up seem designed to evoke the poster imagery of Cruise's Mission Impossible franchise (McQuarrie is scheduled to direct the fifth instalment), suggesting that Reacher's below-the-radar investigative work comes with the moral imprimatur of Ethan Hunt's all-American covert operations. Another sequence shows the fugitive Reacher merging with a crowd of baseball-capped blue collars, as though he were some kind of working-class hero. If America's salt-of-the-earth proletariat is with Reacher, we should be too, right?

"You think I'm a hero, I'm not a hero," Reacher tells his foes – and us. This is, however, mere lip service, as of course Reacher goes on play the hero par excellence, facing (almost) single-handedly his more literally single-handed enemy, outwitting, outpunching and outgunning anyone who gets in his way, and even saving the damsel in distress. If Helen's is the only voice in the film that ever questions what Reacher does, she is also, significantly, on his side all the way to the end. Yet how much more interesting if the film had genuinely challenged Reacher's heroism in all its ethical dubiousness, and had seriously asked whether shooting an unarmed man at point-blank range can ever really be "bringing him to justice?" At least Zero Dark Thirty frames this very issue in morally murky terms, and ultimately interrogates itself – whereas Jack Reacher merely wants us to accept Reacher wholesale as an old-fashioned avatar of Eighties maverickdom, and to recruit us to a potential franchise of Reacher's investigative overreaching.

In fact, that is the film's other big problem. With all its focus on introducing us to the titular character, everyone else is created in cardboard and left to the periphery. The talented Rosamund Pike is reduced to a pretty face - and prominent cleavage - in peril, the estimable Robert Duvall is an underdeveloped and undermotivated sidekick, Richard Jenkins merely adds presence to a bland red herring, and even the great Werner Herzog fails to bring gravitas to the ridiculous villain 'the Zec', who would twirl his moustache if he had any fingers, and who somehow manages all at once to be absurdly over-the-top and disappointingly unambitious in his plotting. These are wasted opportunities in a film more interested in sequel-building than in doing anything new or innovative. If there is any justice, Jack Reacher, like its hero, will quietly disappear.

Reviewed on: 25 Dec 2012
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Jack Reacher packshot
A former military policeman comes out of self-imposed retirement to investigate a series of sniper shootings.
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Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Writer: Christopher McQuarrie, based on the novel by Lee Child

Starring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog, Jai Courtney, Vladimir Sizov, Joseph Sikora, Michael Raymond-James, Alexia Fast, Josh Helman, Robert Duvall

Year: 2012

Runtime: 130 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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