In Lee Child’s best-selling novels, Jack Reacher is 6’5″ and 250 pounds, an imposing and intimidating man. Tom Cruise is 5’7″, maybe 150 pounds and isn’t anywhere close to being imposing or intimidating. Yet Cruise plays the popular character in “Jack Reacher,” based on Child’s “One Shot,” the ninth book in the Reacher series.
Jack Reacher is a former military police officer. He drifts from town to town, doesn’t have a cell phone, buys his clothes from Goodwill and lives completely off the grid. He comes to Pittsburgh after a sniper kills five people and the prime suspect is a man Reacher once investigated back when he was in the Army. Things don’t seem as open and shut as everyone believes once Reacher and a defense attorney (Rosamund Pike) start looking into things, which draws the ire of a mysterious gangster called The Zec (Werner Herzog) and his right hand man, played by Jai Courtney, who will next be seen as Bruce Willis’ son in “A Good Day to Die Hard.”
Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, who won an Oscar for writing “The Usual Suspects,” eschews big special effects for old school thrills, proving once again you don’t need a computer to make a movie exciting. The opening scene would make Alfred Hitchcock proud, with an extended shot through the sniper’s scope as he marks all of his targets, one of whom is a woman carrying a small child. As the shot continues, the tension builds until its almost too much to bear. The tragic events in Newtown last week add an extra layer of terror to the sequence. There’s also a car chase midway through the film that doesn’t seem to use any special effects and is outstanding.
Even Reacher himself is old school. He’s like an Old West gunslinger, riding into town. He has zero issues, nothing personal at stake, is always right, is the toughest guy around and immediately leaves once the job is done.
At 130 minutes, “Reacher” is a touch too long for a vigilante film and really could have used a R-rating to make all of the smack talk in the film classic, but it’s practical action scenes are exciting, and even though Cruise isn’t anything close to the literary version of Jack Reacher, he makes a fine cinematic version.