Walking Tall: Revisiting Jack Reacher

Tom Cruise sets out to prove that size doesn’t matter in this big-budget adaptation of Lee Child’s novel. Cal gives it another look ahead of the sequel.

2012’s Jack Reacher wasn’t the film that most people expected to see. Marketed as a pure action fiesta, movie-goers probably anticipated an unofficial Mission: Impossible sequel featuring Tom Cruise, the generic action hero. But, as those familiar with Lee Child’s Reacher books will attest, the movie was in fact a mystery/thriller more concerned with intrigue and plot twists than outright violence. Though it falls short of its potential on the initial watch, Jack Reacher is a fun, handsomely-mounted thriller which delivers wholesome escapist entertainment the likes of which is rarely done well (it’s a lot better than Alex Cross).

When unhinged Iraq War veteran James Barr (Joseph Sikora) is framed for a vicious sniper rampage that took the lives of five people, his one request is to get Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise). A mysterious drifter now living off the grid, Reacher is a former army investigator, and he rides into town as soon as he hears of Barr’s arrest. Though Reacher assumes Barr is guilty due to the vet’s previous actions, he begins to dig deeper into the clues with Barr’s lawyer Helen (Rosamund Pike), revealing a more intricate plot. As he works through suspects and conducts his own investigation, Reacher soon comes up against brutal enforcer Charlie (Jai Courtney) and his fingerless boss The Zec (Werner Herzog).

Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie’s screenplay is based on Lee Child’s novel One Shot. The translation to the screen is for the most part successful, with plenty of engaging dialogue and McQuarrie keeps the story thoroughly interesting throughout. Pacing is a strong suit, as there are no unnecessary subplots to weigh the film down. Jack Reacher is very no-nonsense, with the titular character consistently moving from Point A to Point B, only slowing down to present Helen with his findings and thus let the audience catch up on all the evidence. However, the narrative is so sophisticated and dense that it would seem McQuarrie was unsure how to handle it. Conspiracies are uncovered and shady company dealings are brought forth, but McQuarrie opts for the easy way out, eventually simplifying the equation down to people shooting one another. Those involved in the conspiracy end up dead, of course, but how much can be proved in court to justify the killing? Can the company behind the conspiracy be taken to task, or has Reacher done them a favour by eliminating the pawns who did all the dirty work? A lot needs to be wrapped up after the climax, and McQuarrie doesn’t even try to resolve it, cutting the film off.

McQuarrie’s regular day job is as a screenwriter extraordinaire, with credits like the Oscar-winning The Usual Suspects and 2008’s Valkyrie to name just two. Jack Reacher was only his second directorial effort; he first helmed the underrated The Way of the Gun and rejoined Cruise for last year’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. Despite his nascent filmmaking credentials, his handling of Jack Reacher is slick and accomplished, building intrigue and staging action sequences with equal assurance. Most impressive is the sniper massacre which opens the film; a harrowing and gripping set-piece that begins the film with no dialogue and utmost tension. Shot by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, this is a good-looking, old-fashioned action-thriller, with every fight and conflict captured through steady camera set-ups, smooth editing and several extended shots. Cruise did the majority of his own stunts, adding realism and excitement to the set-pieces. Of particular note is a loud, intense car chase, and a vicious showdown between Reacher and Charlie. The action may be out-of-place after so much patient build-up, but at least it’s skilfully done and entertaining.

Internet controversy came thick and fast when Cruise was cast as Reacher. In the books, Reacher is described as a tall, muscular behemoth with short blonde hair, making the role appropriate for someone like Dwayne Johnson or Dolph Lundgren. It would’ve been interesting to see a more faithful screen iteration of Reacher, but Cruise makes it work; he’s both brutal and charming. The role is gruffer than the characters Cruise usually plays, and the star embraced the chance to go against his typecast persona, replacing his trademark smile with steely determination and tremendous ferocity. Cruise is now over fifty-years-old, but he doesn’t look a day over forty. Anyone could have played the role of lawyer Helen, but Rosamund Pike is a good pick, beautiful and believable. The dependable Richard Jenkins also impresses as the District Attorney, while Jai Courtney makes for a credible brute in his most successful film venture to date. What really boosts the movie, though, is the casting of German filmmaker Werner Herzog as The Zec. He gets limited screen-time, but he’s memorably sinister. Also of note is Robert Duvall, who shares great chemistry with Cruise.

Jack Reacher entered cinemas at an awkward time for American audiences. Arriving not long after the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, many felt uncomfortable watching the initial sniper slaughter, in which innocents are killed in cold blood. This is not a criticism of the film and it isn’t McQuarrie’s fault at all, but sensitive movie-goers should still be wary of the content. In the end, Jack Reacher is two-thirds of a great thriller and one-third of a standard, generic action film. It had the potential to be a more sophisticated, Oscar-grade flick, but the end result is nevertheless enjoyable as popcorn entertainment. I hope Never Go Back is the same.

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • In the scene where Jack Reacher’s car crashes into some barrels, the car accidentally stalled upon the impact, but Tom Cruise was luckily able to restart the car before driving off again. Rather than do a retake, Christopher McQuarrie decided to leave it in the film as he felt it added to the suspense of the scene.
  • Coincidentally, the source novel specifically references (though not by name) the film A Few Good Men (1992), which starred Cruise. In the novel, Reacher reflects upon a line of dialogue spoken by Jack Nicholson’s character.
  • Jai Courtney and Josh Helman had so much trouble with the American accent required for their roles that several planned scenes were scrapped, and many of Courtney’s lines were dropped from the sides.
  • Lee Child often inserts references to the football club he supports (Aston Villa) into his Jack Reacher stories. In One Shot, there is a character with the surname Barr, possibly named after Perry Barr, which is an area of Birmingham where Aston Villa originally played, and also a character with the surname “Holt,” possibly named after the Holte End, which is one of the famous stands at Villa Park, home of Aston Villa FC.
  • McQuarrie stated in an interview in 2015 that the scars referenced and shown on Jack Reacher’s body during the introduction to the character were scars earned from his encounters in other Jack Reacher books.

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