Joshua Miller: Author Lee Child (né British author Jim Grant) wrote the first Jack Reacher novel, Killing Floor, in 1997. Since then, Child has churned out a new adventure featuring his popular and gigantic ex-US Army Military Police Major turned ass-kicking drifter every single year. Jack Reacher is based on 2005’s installment, One Shot (taken from the sniper mantra, “One Shot, One Kill”), and begins with the all-too-current horror of a public firearm mass murder. Five random victims are taken down by lone gunman — a sniper to be exact. The sniper leaves behind a trail of concrete evidence that quickly leads to his capture. Yet the sniper claims he is innocent. When asked to sign a confession, the man instead writes the words, “Get Jack Reacher.” Reacher arrives in town not to help the accused, but to bury him. But Reacher’s super kickass asskicky detective work quickly upends the case and the evidence starts to spiral towards a dense mystery involving a creepy puppet master played by the cinema legend and white-noise-machine-voiced Werner Herzog.
With seventeen Jack Reacher novels and two short stories already in the mix, and a fan base growing exponentially with each installment, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came around looking for a new franchise hand out. Tom Cruise, as ageless as he has been, is finally starting to get a little too old to continue with his impossible missions for too many more years; the actor surely has been on the lookout for a new series — one that still features plenty of action, but requires less acrobatics. And where the hell has director Christopher McQuarrie been? There were only four Jack Reacher novels back when McQuarrie earned himself a devoted cult of action fans with The Way of the Gun. A lot of people have been eagerly awaiting his directorial follow-up. The table is set. Will the meal deliver? My father, one of the legion of Jack Reacher fans, has been making jokes about Cruise’s involvement, noting that Hollywood must’ve accidentally inverted Reacher’s 6 foot 5 inch height on the casting sheets (mocking Cruise’s 5 foot 7 inch shortness). All the Cruise fan rage is giving me flashbacks to Interview With the Vampire. But Lee Child seems to understand the casting, having gone on the record defending Cruise by saying, “Reacher’s size in the books is a metaphor for an unstoppable force, which Cruise portrays in his own way.” I’ve never read a Jack Reacher story. Until this film was announced, I didn’t even know the character existed. So I have no stake in the existing franchise whatsoever. I like Tom Cruise. And I like McQuarrie. I want a solid Cruise/McQuarrie film. That’s the angle I’m coming from. And for me, this meal was quite filling. The movie is ridiculous in all the best ways, and McQuarrie and Cruise never steer clear of hacky elements, but instead just embrace them lovingly. I kind of loved Jack Reacher actually.
Tim Kelly: Josh is exactly right, Jack Reacher is loaded with corny dialogue, hamfisted delivery and a plot that would feel right at home on an episode of NCIS. And bless its heart for knowing that, because McQuarrie and Cruise use the material to create Dirty Harry 2012: Pittsburgh Edition. Whatever guttural reaction I’d hoped to get out of Taken 2 this year, Jack Reacher provided it. It’s like a karate punch through my solar plexus and into my heart. When it all shakes out, Jack Reacher is one of the best action films this year.
Nick Nunziata: I am a Jack Reacher fan and have read all the books. I am a big Tom Cruise fan but I was super skeptical about the choice.
Unsurprisingly, he pulls it off not only by carrying the demeanor of the character perfectly but by downplaying his own movie star charm. Reacher is a blunt instrument and his humor is razor sharp but subtle. His action isn’t showy but rather effective. It’s the least Tom Cruise role he’s played in a long time.
Josh: I don’t even know if Cruise can downplay his movie star charm at this point. He isn’t blasting us with his trademark grin every five seconds, but his every glance and nod is definitely loaded with, “Hey, I’m Tom Cruise.” He’s letting his star presence do some of the walking for him. But I don’t mean that as a detraction. Lee Child slapped together a tasty potboiler mystery to propel us recklessly forward, but a film so squarely relying on how awesome its awesome hero is can only stay on its feet if we accept the hero’s proclaimed awesomeness. And I did. Again, I have no reference for the character. I bitch and moan when Game of Thrones strays from my perception of George R.R. Martin’s characters, so I respect that diehard Reacharounds (no?) may never accept shorty Cruise. But as a new character to me, I fully embraced Cruise’s standard “feed off my intensity” Cruiseiosity. In fact, I think Jack Reacher has found one of the better uses for Cruise in a long while. Tom Cruise always comes off as a little improbable. And McQuarrie’s Jack Reacher is a completely improbable character. He has no arc. He has no flaws to overcome. He only owns one set of clothes at a time (literally). You could make a supercut of all the times a character says something like, “Who ARE you?” or “Who is this Jack Reacher?” The movie tires itself out trying to find new ways to demonstrate how Jack Reacher is the smartest, handsomest, cleverest, toughest, most resourceful and unstoppable Übermensch the world has ever scene. It takes a Tom Cruise to step into those shoes with any sense of sincerity and avoid satire. And Cruise has a ball with the character. He’s doing all his old tricks, but he’s found the perfect receptacle.
Tim: I think I remember Josh and I busting out when Rosamund Pike asks about his luggage with Cruise responding, paraphrasing, “This is the only shirt I own.” The absurdity actually adds to the oeuvre, and not in a so-bad-it’s-good way. It’s more along the lines of meeting a film on its own terms. Cruise knows the action genre inside and out, clearly, so it’s no surprise that he pulls Reacher off sublimely. I’m in Josh’s boat, knowing only what we’ve covered here at the site in regards to Child’s books, but Reacher on film is an all-timer for Cruise. Taken had people rethinking Liam Neeson as an action star. If anything, Cruise once again proves that he can still play in this sandbox with the rest of them. Between this and Ghost Protocol, it’s hard to deny we’re seeing a Tom Cruise who’s dialed into what fans expect out of a movie star of this magnitude. And it’s hard to fault an actor falling back on the safe choices when said choice involve a character whose super power involves kicking henchmen in the balls. Even after he’s already won the fight. The audience is always a step or two ahead of Reacher cracking the case, but you’ll never worry that he won’t get there. He memorizes a serial number on a gun to impress a cop, only to lie to the cop about memorizing it, because he knows that if he waits that much longer, he can be an even bigger dick to the guy. That, to me, is Cruise’s Jack Reacher.
Nick: Let’s face it, Cruise has rebooted in safe mode. He’s not about to alienate his fans and give his critics a big bullseye. Rock of Ages showed him outclassing everyone [reach]around him and here he pulls off the laconic tough guy thing with no foibles or ego. A matter of fact blue collar dude. It fits him well because even though the guy looks better at 50 than most of us did at 25 he’s got middle-aged chisel going on now. It’s more Navy lifer than pretty boy and it helps. The character’s simplicity is one of the best thing about the books. Reacher only needs a cup of coffee to be happy and his need to help those in need and his loner mentality is the perfect setup. Think the first twenty minutes of First Blood. That’s a sweet spot for cinema, engaging and free of any real subtext or niche dependency. Jack Reacher is a beef stew. Messy, straightforward, but manly and completely American.
Josh: It was actually a little exciting realizing I was underestimating McQuarrie’s awareness of the material. At several points in the film I laughed out loud, and not with the movie. I was laughing at how stupid the movie was getting. For example, the scene in which we’re given back story on all the victims, each a more perfect human being than the last, struck down sadly right in the middle of them doing or about to do something selfless and wonderful. As though it wouldn’t be tragic if someone got murdered who was kind of a dick or having an off day. But this quickly turns out to be merely a set-up for Jack Reacher to display his great Jack Reacher-ness and reveal that at least a couple of these back stories are completely bullshit. And that is the kind of stupid I can get behind. I love hero-building stupid.
Tim: Most definitely. The first hour is a heaping helping of “Look out, Reacher’s about to bust this thing wide open.” McQuarrie pulls a hat trick, displaying real fondness for the material while happily acknowledging how ridiculous everything’s getting. Never once throughout the film do you sense Reacher’s in any real danger, and this is a character that takes a steel bat to the back of the head only to stomp all the asses a few seconds later. It’s an entire movie about an action hero knowing all the plays in the playbook, anticipating all the body blows, and then just busting people’s shit once he has it all figured out. He’s the kind of character that steals your car as you find yourself both impressed and appreciative of his logic for doing so.
Josh: The Way of the Gun had some great shoot’em’up scenes, but I didn’t know McQuarrie had this level of action cinema in him. Solid and inventive gunplay here, as one might expect, but the carplay was even better. In a time when action is being defined by superpowered beings tossing each other through walls, it is nice now and then to nestle into a basic bitchin’ car chase. And I loved little details (I don’t know if I should credit them to McQuarrie or Child) like Reacher’s usage of a car’s rear-view camera.
Nick used the word “simplicity,” and for all this movie’s bravado and over-the-top-ness, it is very simple. I felt a similar vibe from The Lincoln Lawyer last year. There is an old-school element at play here. The fisticuffs have a post-Bourne brutality (though none of the dour tone; hell, Reacher beats a man unconscious with another man’s head, which also knocks the second man unconscious; that’s hilarious), but things stay somewhat intimate. I like that the movie never attempts to rise to extreme importance. Tim, you referenced NCIS. Like, Lincoln Lawyer, something I thought about while watching Jack Reacher is that TV has kind of killed this type of mystery story for the movies. Lee Child, cranking these books out with such succession, is basically doing Jack Reacher: The TV Show. I have no idea what the stories of the other books are, but, without getting into spoilers, I appreciated that Jack Reacher never flew into the “we need to stop this war from happening” territory. It was about a small group of characters stuck in a contained narrative. They cared about what was happening, but the stakes weren’t Earth shattering.
Tim: The film’s usage of American muscle feels very Bullitt in the chase scenes. And McQuarrie cranks the roaring engines to 11 in some of the film’s most stirring sequences. The mystery, who’s responsible for the staged gun massacre Josh described, takes a back seat as the action ramps up. And why shouldn’t it? The pieces of the puzzle become less compelling once we know where they all fit. But that’s also where I think some will try to spoil Reacher‘s fun. I can’t deny I was mildly disappointed when a secondary character connected the dots offscreen and proceeded to relay the findings in a particularly rudimentary piece of exposition. But you get the sense McQuarrie knew when it was time to get Reacher and the maniacal puppet masters together. By the time Cruise threaten’s to drink a bad guy’s blood from his boot, all’s forgiven.
Josh: Ah, the boot speech. That really gave Liam Neeson’s “special set of skills” speech a run for its money. And I agree about the outcome of the mystery. Hardly captivating, but I was just happy it didn’t involve stupid fucking Nazis. I’m looking at you Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
Tim: It also helps that we have two really competent evildoers in the form of Jai Courtney and Werner fucking Herzog. I worry less about A Good Day to Day Hard (okay, not that much less) now that I’ve gotten to see the young book in action. But Courtney brings a physical presence that’s matched by one creepy ass turn from Herzog, who’s performance as a self-cannibalizing nihilist you can’t help but love as much as he clearly does. It’d have felt false to see one singular villain match intellectualism and physicality with Jack. But together these two dudes put on a mighty front that you look forward to seeing unravel.
Josh: Herzog’s character, The Zec, felt like something straight out of Dashiell Hammett to me. I can’t imagine a better use of the man as a villain. His character is utterly absurd, almost out of place, yet that soothing, lyrical Herzog voice — a few of his lines gave me chills.
Nick: The series has evolved in print from the very spare first person narrative of the original books to the more complex (though still quite light) text of recent entries but Jack Reacher is a man of very few words. When he does speak it’s never small talk. It’s always incursions to peel back layers of truth and veteran readers can pretty much see the skeleton of a plot coming a mile away. The film, like the books, isn’t about the destination but all about the journey. Not every film needs to unlock a mystery and there’s nothing all that twisty about Christopher McQuarrie’s movie. The fun is watching Jack Reacher bounce off of different people. Some get bloody, others find an ally who gets shit done. Robert Duvall in particular has a lot of fun verbally sparring and ultimately pairing up with Reacher and even the hardest hearts cannot resist Duvall.
It’s a fun flick. It’s not dumb but it’s not too intellectual either. It’s a coup that’ll reward nearly every demographic who ponies up. If adhering to this formula we can benefit greatly from a visit from Mr. Reacher every three or four years. Especially with Mr. McQuarrie in charge.
Note: Keep an eye out for series creator Lee Child in an early scene sitting behind a desk.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Tim: IF such a thing is sustainable, I’d happily embrace more Reacher films. We could very well have a new Dirty Harry-style series on our hands, as the solid foundation’s already been built. And no one need worry about the film’s PG-13 rating, as I walked out astounded McQuarrie got away with one. This is a brutal, bone-crushing action film with an intensity and body count typically reserved for R.
I don’t want to be in a situation where we’re dreading another tired Jack Reacher flick seven or eight years from now. But if the studio can follow the tracks McQuarrie has laid, and indeed bring him back for more, I can get behind the future adventures of a military cop who washes the only shirt he owns in his hotel room sink.
This one knocked me back, like Tom Cruise filled a water balloon with testosterone and threw it into my face from a foot away. It’s the sort of good time escapism that we need right now, as sometimes you just desire the simplicity of the noble asshole sticking it to the evil assholes. At least for the next couple of weeks, it ain’t a party unless Jack Reacher ’round (I’m sorry, you guys. I’ve been trying not to this entire time).
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Josh: Huzzah! We all made reach-around jokes. The circle is complete.
I for one am pumped for a sequel. I hope McQuarrie senses a good thing when he sees it and will ride the inevitable success of Jack Reacher through at least once sequel before braving another outside-the-box film like Way of the Gun. This film has confirmed that he’s got the goods. And I don’t want him to go away from another twelve years.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars