Jack Reacher is solid, but nothing special
‘Jack Reacher’ is a solid adaptation of a fan favorite series of books by author Lee Child. While Tom Cruise probably won’t quiet the series’ fans who questioned his casting, I was focused on the film’s connection to a real tragedy.
Fans of Lee Child’s series of books have been anticipating Jack Reacher’s appearance on the big screen for some time now. Jack Reacher is a solid opening chapter to what I’m sure Paramount and star Tom Cruise would like to see develop into a franchise. While Cruise’s casting hasn’t exactly been met with universal acclaim from the Child’s fans, he turns in a solid – while not groundbreaking – performance in a film that was surprisingly enjoyable. The film’s biggest challenges were an almost comically drawn antagonist, and the unfortunate timing of being released just days after a national tragedy that not all audiences will be able to separate.
I’m not too familiar with the source material, but Reacher as a character archetype is not unfamiliar: a little too-capable, not unlike W.E.B. Griffin’s Charley Castillo or Brad Thor’s Scot Harvath. While a character like that might be more difficult to believe in the world of literature – though I’d imagine that medium, allowing for more depth, has seen a different evolution of the character – it works surprisingly well on the small screen. While he is almost too perfect – especially some of his gun work in the final act – it is fun to lean back into your seat and enjoy the ride.
Reacher is brought into the investigation of James Barr (Joseph Sikora, who will always be the pregnant guy in that episode of Grey’s Anatomy), who is accused of the random sniper shooting of five people in downtown Pittsburgh. Reacher’s got a history with Barr, and while he knows Barr is certainly capable of murder, quickly realizes that things are not what they seem. Rosamund Pike plays Barr’s attorney Helen Rodin, while Richard Jenkins plays her father – and opposing counsel – DA Alex Rodin. David Oyelowo is Emerson, the lead police investigator and Jai Courtey is Charlie, one of the film’s primary antagonists.
Werner Herzog plays the shadowy “The Zec,” who is the man behind the curtain pulling the strings. I use that clichéd analogy for a very specific reason. Herzog’s character is quite literally the only real problem I had with Jack Reacher. From his first time on-screen, the Zec comes across as a Bond villain cliché; way over the top and unbelievable. Where it is easy – fun even – to suspend disbelief in terms of Reacher, I found Zec’s presence almost laughable.
Rounding out the cast was the always-brilliant Robert Duvall, who shows up late in Reacher’s investigation. The chemistry between Duvall and Cruise was easily apparent, but it was sadly a good couple of minutes into his appearance that I remembered they’d previously worked together in Days of Thunder.
Despite my big disappointment with Herzog, I enjoyed Jack Reacher much more than I expected to (my expectations were probably low considering the bad taste Alex Cross left in my mouth, souring me on crime/thriller book adaptations). Considering how “awesome” Reacher the character was, I was pleased with Cruise’s decision not to overplay it. I was also impressed with Pike’s performance, though the role wasn’t nearly as meaty as I’d hoped.
While I enjoyed the film, I almost feel obligated to warn audiences about the film’s opening scenes following the shootings, and the subsequent follow-up sequences. Generally, when the lights come down and a film begins, I get immersed in the story. Considering I screened the film just a couple of days after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, parts of Jack Reacher were a little difficult to watch. There’s a scene that was incredibly powerful, through the sniper’s scope as he searched for targets, that was a great way to get the audience into the mind of the killer. That scene obviously wasn’t meant to be evocative in the specific way that it was for me, but it was hard to separate (a scene revisiting one of the specific victims – a nanny – later was equally as difficult).
By no means am I saying the movie is inappropriate … as a fan of a good action film, this isn’t something that normally registers for me … and I don’t want to imply that I think Paramount should have pushed the film’s opening (They did cancel the premiere in Pittsburgh). But as someone who has questioned the decision to push back film releases and TV episodes airing in the wake of tragedies, I walked out of Jack Reacher with a greater appreciation of why such decisions are made.