Mark Reviews Movies

Jack Reacher


2 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Cast: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Jai Courtney, Werner Herzog, Alexia Fast, Robert Duvall

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence, language and some drug material)

Running Time: 2:10

Release Date: 12/21/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 20, 2012

Jack Reacher is one of those characters. You know the type—the one that every character in the movie continually asks about even after they have met him. He's "a ghost," with no phone number, credit card, email address, or anything that would allow anyone to find him. He has only been in the United States twice in his life, and the second time was so that he could show he knew how to disappear completely. Of himself, Reacher says that he's just a man "who wants to be left alone."

Jack Reacher works at its best when the movie allows its titular character to be a man of mystery but is far less successful as the character starts to unravel the puzzle of the plot, which makes a fairly bold attempt to become an antonym for the law of Occam's razor. In one moment, the man will display a misogynistic flair to insult a woman at a bar, and later, we come to realize that he was only doing so because he was suspicious of the woman's companions—and rightly so.

Given the opportunity to speak to the woman again, he's calmer, not abusive (but still intimidating—he seems incapable of getting out of that mode), and tries to convince the woman that she is better than any man that would try to manipulate her. When things go sour for her, it becomes a driving force for his actions.

We do not know or particularly care if Reacher is a bad man or a good one. Throughout the movie (based on the novel One Shot, one of the series of books about the character by Lee Child, the pen name of Jim Grant), he is effective at what he does, and that trumps whatever moral qualifier we may be tempted to bestow upon him. His instincts lean heavily toward selfish and misanthropic attitudes and behaviors, but after some thought, he comes to his senses. The very fact that he takes the time to evaluate a situation beyond what's best or easiest for him is at least a sign that there might be more to him than his worst moments suggest.

Tom Cruise plays Reacher with only the smallest shred of sympathy. The man is after the truth, no matter what path that leads him and how many people he has to kill or quite brutally injure along the way. It's enough for him to lean more toward the realm of hero than anti-hero, but, again, it's the relentlessness of the character that makes us admire him, even if from a distance with a lot of qualms.

After a former Army sniper (Joseph Sikora) is arrested for the shooting and killing of five people standing outside a baseball stadium (The scene is unflinching and unsettling), the suspect requests Reacher. Just when the district attorney (Richard Jenkins) and Emerson (David Oyelowo), the lead detective on the case, have given up hope of finding the man, Reacher appears in the prosecutor's office. He's not here to help the suspect, he informs the pair, but to "bury him."

Reacher served in the Military Police Corps and has had a run-in with the alleged shooter before. That time, he knew the man was guilty of murdering a group of defense contractors, but because they were themselves involved in illegal activity, the sniper never served time. Reacher made a promise to the man that, if he ever killed again, Reacher would make sure he was punished for it.

Despite knowing all of this (and because she has no other option), Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), the suspect's idealistic attorney and district attorney's daughter, decides to hire Reacher as the defense's investigator. The skeptical Reacher begins to believe that Helen's client might not actually be the shooter.

This is where things quickly get out of hand. There's a massive conspiracy afoot involving the vague motives of a corrupt corporation, a traitor in their midst, and a shadowy organization run by a man known only as "the Zec" (Werner Herzog), which two characters helpfully translate as "prisoner" within the space of five minutes. The group is so enigmatic, in fact, that it's never exactly clear what they're trying to do (something about obtaining a small business for some purpose) or why they go about doing what they do to accomplish whatever the goal might be. Perhaps the unraveled plot makes sense, but the way the writer/director Christopher McQuarrie basically dismisses the importance of the details for car chases, fights, and a climactic shootout does not aid in making the mystery any more lucid.

As the twisting and turning revelations unfold, the movie's grasp of and focus on its titular character lessen, and the wheels of the plot's machinery spin with lessening interest. As the title suggests, the only somewhat unique thing about Jack Reacher is the character himself. Take him out of the picture, and it's just routine.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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