Jack Reacher - Movie Review

If you know anything at all about Lee Child’s long-running series of Jack Reacher novels, your first and probably only question about this film is: what were they thinking getting the five foot seven (allegedly) Tom Cruise to play a character who’s six foot five and 230 pounds? Reacher’s bulk isn’t a small part of the character either. As an ex-military policeman who’s homeless Renegade-style by choice, wandering the land solving crimes because he’s just the kind of badass who likes helping the helpless, being able to beat up pretty much everyone – often all at once – is an essential part of who he is. On the other hand, the essential part of Tom Cruise is usually his smile.

It’s a good thing then that this film doesn’t even try to persuade you that Tom Cruise is over two meters tall. What it does try to do is persuade you that Cruise is a smart guy who knows how to fight. If you’re outraged that someone way too small is portraying Child’s classic character, there’s not a lot here that will change your mind. If you’re at least open to the idea that a perfectly decent action thriller can be made from the material no matter what the size of the lead, read on.

When a sniper guns down five people in Pittsburgh, all the evidence points towards a military trained lone nut as the killer. When the killer gets bashed into a coma in prison, the only message he leaves behind is a note: “Get Jack Reacher”. But Reacher is a drifter, a man with no known address, no way of being found. Luckily for the killer’s defence lawyer (Rosamund Pike), Reacher suddenly turns up on the DA’s doorstep. He’s just that much of a badass. Okay, he saw it on the national news and recognised the killer, but the film gets a good joke out of it anyway.

He’s not there to help the killer – turns out they have a shared past, and it puts the killer firmly in the “guilty” category as far as ex military cop Reacher’s concerned – but something about the case doesn’t feel quite right, and that’s enough to get Reacher to stick around and take a closer look at things. Cue a lot of fights, a car chase or two, and a mystery that involves both a stoic killer (Australia’s own Jai Courtney) and a man who’s so creepy he may very well be a vampire (Werner Herzog – yes, the German director is in a rare acting-only performance).

This is a bit of a throwback to the gritty action films of the seventies, with a somewhat seedy Pittsburgh providing plenty of run down houses, parking lots and dive bars for Reacher to pummel his way through. When he’s not taking the bus Reacher gets around via (not quite stolen) muscle cars, and towards the end he teams up with seventies icon Robert Duvall (playing the crusty owner of a shooting range) just to make sure you get the idea that you’re watching a throwback to the golden age of low-rent criminals and the lawless good guys who straighten them out.

The story itself goes back even further, right to the hard-boiled days of the forties and the private investigators who worked by their own code of honour. This ticks all the boxes: a good-looking dame asks our loner hero to take up the case, the local police aren’t happy about him nosing around, there are clues to be found and women to be saved and tough guys to beat up, and when he starts to figure out what’s really going on here he realises the corruption reaches all the way (kind of) to the top.

This is a smaller film than you might expect from Cruise – he’s the only big name here apart from Duvall, and the action is confined to a few brutally efficient fist-fights (and one laughably incompetent one where Reacher is seemingly attacked by the Three Stooges), a car chase and a biggish all-action conclusion – which only adds to the retro feel. It lacks the hard edge and cynical worldview of those old films, but with Cruise in the lead it was never going to be able to pull that off.

Instead, it’s not afraid to have a little fun when it can. It doesn’t exactly poke fun at action movies, rather it lets the clichés play out in funny ways when it can. One of Reacher’s getaways verges on the absurd, the previously mentioned Three Stooges fight is hilarious, his sex appeal has to be some kind of running gag and by the time Duvall turns up it’s hardly surprising that they turn into a comedy double act. None of this detracts from the action, which is solidly competent all the way through. It doesn’t mess with the thriller plot either, which ticks along nicely without ever being all that surprising. It just adds a bit of spark to a film that otherwise you’d have forgotten all about before you left the cinema.

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