Sunday, December 30, 2012

"Jack Reacher" Still Entertaining, even if Cruise Falls About Two Feet Short...

Jack Reacher - Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, based on the novel One Shot by Lee Child, starring Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, Richard Jenkins, Robert Duvall, Jai Courtney, and Werner Herzog - Rated PG-13

Jack Reacher is a character many have wanted to see on the big screen for quite some time.  I must confess, I had never even heard of this character from the popular Lee Child novels until this film went into production.  I picked up a copy of the book that the film Jack Reacher is based on, One Shot, and immediately understood why people liked the series and wanted some movies.  Reacher is a fun character because he’s a no-nonsense hulk of a man who can just as easily solve a complex crime as he can beat someone to death with his bare hands.  He stands for what is right and does not care what society or the authorities have to say.  Also, he’s a ghost in a modern world that seems more and more impossible to disappear in.  Needless to say, after reading the book, I too became very excited about this film.
First, the controversy.  Jack Reacher is described as a very large man, and Tom Cruise, shall we say, falls short.  Reacher fans have been very vocal about their hatred for this casting, but it didn’t bother me at all.  I’ve been watching Tom Cruise beat up dudes and do his own stunts for a long time now, so it isn’t that big of a stretch to see him as an action star.  Yeah, he’s not tall, but so what?  Nothing in the film ended up being improbable just because of Cruise’s size.  Though I am not sure fans of the book can forgive the casting because they’ve probably pictured a character that looked nothing like Cruise all of these years whereas I knew Cruise was cast when I read the book, so I was picturing Cruise the whole time and it didn’t bother me.  I imagine when tiny Tom Cruise replaces the imagined beast you had created for Reacher, it is a bit upsetting.  A quick reminder, though, Reacher creator Lee Child approves of Cruise.
Casting aside, everyone should give Jack Reacher a chance.  It is a smart, funny, tense film that follows through with the premise that Reacher is a man who does whatever he wants.  But the story of Reacher has some unfortunate timing (which may be indicative of its middling box office thus far).  The movie begins with a mass shooting portrayed with methodical, cold detail.  It’s impossible (at this moment) to watch that opening scene and not think of the recent mass shooting in Connecticut.  Of course, this is no fault of the film, just a very bad coincidence.  Movies are meant to be, for the most part, escapes from reality and Jack Reacher unintentionally shoves reality right back into your face about five minutes in.  If you can keep watching after that moment, though, the film really pulls you into the case.
The shooting seems like an open and shut case with plenty of evidence to prove that the shooter is a veteran sniper who was very quiet and unassuming (typical mass shooter description).  What’s strange is that the shooter, before he is put into a coma from a beating he takes in custody, asks for Jack Reacher, a former military police detective.  As it turns out, the shooter had done this before, and Reacher almost had him.  So basically Reacher shows up to make sure this guy pays for his crimes.  This is important because the typical scenario would make Reacher an old Army buddy who was there to expose a conspiracy.  Reacher’s desire to bury the suspect makes it that much more interesting when he decides to look deeper into the case.  Of course, there is more to the shooting than meets the eye. 
As a detective story goes, Jack Reacher is interesting and even a little fresh.  The recreations and the way revelations occur are handled in effective ways.  The noir qualities of the film are fun, too.  Reacher does everything his own way, interrogating and intimidating whomever he needs to.  Oh, and he can fight.  The action sequences in the film are all handled very well.  The action is easy to follow, and it never feels like it’s there just to kill time.  Often, violence and action are used for a bit humor.  It is also used to show a bit of brutality.  A tough balance to keep, but writer/director Christopher McQuarrie found a way to pull it off. 
Story and action are great, but it really helps when the cast is up to it.  Cruise, as I stated earlier, is fine.  This is nothing new for Cruise, but that’s no big deal.  This is a role he’s perfect for.  If you’re not a fan of a typical Cruise film, this one won’t change anything.  As for the rest of the cast, there are some great supporting actors in this one.  Rosamund Pike portrays Cruise’s main ally, but she basically just gets to react to shocking revelations.  Her low cut shirts make a bigger impression than her performance.  (Seriously, the amount of cleavage shown by her character starting midway through the film seemed to come out of nowhere.  No major complaints here, though.)  David Oyelowo serves as good competition to Reacher as the cop who wants the open and shut case to remain that way.  Oyelowo is one of those actors who can do a lot just by giving an intent stare, and he uses that for all it’s worth in this movie.  Richard Jenkins is as good as always as the DA.  And Robert Duvall provides some good comedic relief in the third act as an unlikely ally. 
The film’s best supporters are the villains.  Jai Courtney does a great job of creating tension in what could have been a very plain Thug Number One role.  German director Werner Herzog turned out to be the best unlikely casting of 2012 as the Zec, a disfigured, sadistic mastermind.  He had too few scenes, but he made each one vastly interesting with his ghostly gaze and trademark accent.  Plus, as a cinephile, it was great to see the famous auteur acting in a blockbuster.
Jack Reacher has a lot going for it.  While it is pretty much exactly what you would expect for a Tom Cruise action flick, it also provides plenty of interesting and entertaining elements that set it above most thrillers.  Try not to let the headlines or controversial casting decisions keep you from enjoying this fun movie.
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)
With the book fresh in my mind, I was definitely looking for differences, especially since the location was changed from a smallish city in southern Indiana (my area of the world) to Pittsburgh.  I would have preferred the location stay the same for a couple of reasons.  1. I'm from Indiana and this is a pretty forgotten chunk of America, and it's always nice to see something take place in the state. 2. The smallish city aspect of the plot makes a bit more sense for why everyone knows everyone and people keep bumping into each other and whatnot. 
The location change did allow for a funny moment for those who have read the book.  First, there is the problem of the redhead hitting on Reacher at the bar.  She says something about him being new in town.  That's a bigger red flag than her expecting his name to be Jack Reacher.  How much of a soak do you have to be to notice a new face in a packed bar in a large city?  There are probably multiple new faces every single night.  Why the change made it funny, however, is the fact that she says that she works at "the" auto parts store.  At first, I thought this was a slip up.  How could Pittsburgh just have the one auto parts store.  When it turned into a joke, it made me okay with the change.  I really liked the fact that the auto parts store ended up being called "Default Auto Parts."

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