130 Mins. Dir. By: Christopher McQuarrie with
Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, and Werner Herzog
Portraying what may be the single worst character name in fictional history, Tom Cruise continues his trip down the Bruce Willis action hero road of middle aged ass-kickery. As the titular Jack Reacher, Cruise portrays a hulking man beast of uncaged fury and skill that you don’t want to mess with–who everyone messes with. With not enough exposition behind all of its characters, Jack Reacher flounders around in the grey area of ultra violent, no holds bared darkness and PG-13 crowd pleasing puffiness.
With almost no motivation, Army sniper vet James Barr (Joseph Sikora) drives his conspicuous, windowless van to a parking garage across from Pittsburgh’s PNC Park and shoots 5 random people. Leaving behind heaps of evidence, Barr is arrested at his home hours later while taking a nap, with even more incriminating evidence strewn about the house. In the interrogation, he’s given the opportunity to write out his confession and the police and D.A. are thrilled when Barr picks up a pen and starts writing. Except instead of a confession, they get an overly large note from the silent Barr that reads; “Get Jack Reacher.” An ex-Army cop, Reacher (Tom Cruise) is a ghost, living off the grid, making it difficult for the interested parties to find him. Though, when Reacher sees Barr’s face on the news, he appears in the middle of the D.A.’s office, as if from a puff of smoke. Showing up only because he actually wants to see Barr get his cur-muffins, Reacher becomes the unwilling investigator for Barr’s defense lawyer; Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), who happens to be the D.A.’s daughter. Reacher quickly figures out that things are not what they seem. Of course that will happen when you’re being chased down and attacked at every turn.
An action/mystery is going to play games with its audience, it’s a must. The games played in Jack Reacher however are a confounding ball of inconsistent story telling. It’s clear from the first moment you see Barr, that he’s not the shooter. We see the shooter’s face and completely different hairstyle from the get go. While the viewer is aware of the situation, the characters are not, so it’s fine that they still see Barr as the guilty party. However, the way the film is presented, it’s practically expected that the public is supposed to agree Barr is the shooter. Mysteries purposely hide the true features of the killer for a reason. Unless you’re Colombo or Monk, where everyone knows all the facts, the pull of the show is watching the quirky hero figure it out for him or herself. The unabashed clarity of the killer’s identity comes off as confusing. Granted, anyone walking into a film like Jack Reacher knows they’re in for an “everything is not what it seems” situation, but it simply doesn’t work here. You can defy what everyone expects from a thriller like Jack Reacher, but once you break the opening mold, you have to keep pushing the envelope. Falling back on all the usual tricks after you’ve done something completely different in your opening scens is a mistake.
Following the “same old tricks” model, you’d expect Jack Reacher to drop little hints along the way, making the plot fairly obvious; even if you don’t figure it out till the characters explain it all. It’s a device that I complain about on a regular basis, but you begin to appreciate it more when you see the mistake-ridden layout of Jack Reacher. An hour or so into the film, a veritable bomb is dropped as to the true motives behind the mass shooting, throwing out names and businesses involved that didn’t show up until that moment. It creates a level of disconnect between the viewer’s emotions and the primal action aspect of the film. Because these specifics are explained in a lightning fast, utterly forgettable moment it is impossible for the viewer to even understand the bad guy’s plot, let alone care about it. Maybe screenwriter/director Christopher McQuarrie thought we are all used to the formula that simply knowing: (1) bad guys do things; (2) bad guys don’t want to be caught; (3) so bad guys murder, murder, murder; was good enough an explanation. Whether you buy into that notion of movie plot exposition or not, what reason does anyone have to care about the outcome when the movie’s screenwriter/director is not even willing to make an effort to draw them in?
In Jack Reacher even singular character motives are non-existent or severely flawed. At that hour mark when the bomb drops and Reacher lays out a highly believable and fairly solid run down of why Barr is actually innocent to the woman defending Barr; she practically poo-poos the idea. You’re a defense attorney who is being told that your client is innocent of the crime they’re convicted of and you’re response is not, “Holy shit, I’m going to get this guy off,and he totally deserves it?” The theory applies to everyone in the film and by that, I mean the background actors as well. The trailer for Jack Reacher spends quite a bit of time focusing on the scene where Reacher is being chased by the cops and escapes by ditching his car and blending into a crowd of people waiting for a bus. Let’s, for a moment, forget the fact that the bus even made it through the literal army of police cruisers converging on the scene; if you’re waiting for a bus and you see one serious looking dude step out of his still rolling car with a cavalcade of police cars and choppers all converging on said vehicle, would you aid in concealing that man??
Tom Cruise’s acting prowess never really impressed me, but next to the overly ridiculous reaction shots of Rosamund Pike as she’s told some shocking information or stumbling onto her own obvious revelation, Cruise looks like a master. More upsetting though is the tragic under use of some great talent. Richard Jenkins is there playing a horribly clichéd character type that he’s over qualified for and Werner Herzog, as the film’s uber villain, is one of the most dumbfounding casting decisions I’ve seen in a long time. He has only two scenes in the entire movie and his character’s backstory is so flimsy, his purported twisted, evil nature is never actually reallized. All Herzog does is stand in the background making a halfhearted fist, so that it looks like he’s missing fingers.
In light of the recent, and horrific, mass murder of young children in Newtown, CT, some viewers will experience actual emotion at the very beginning of Jack Reacher when a child is shown being scoped by a sniper rifle. The movie’s premiere was pushed back due to the tragedy in Connecticut. Certainly the movie had nothing to do with those terrible events and those associated with Jack Reacher cannot help that the timing is bad; but it seems an odd push to keep this particular movie in the holiday line-up. And to keep that opening scene with the child in. I’m the type of person who can disconnect enough from those feelings to not have it affect me, but there are many who may not be able to. So moviegoers should be forewarned of what they will see in that opening sniper sequence in Jack Reacher. Though, if everyone listened to me, you should probably stay away from Jack Reacher altogether, given everything that follows that opening scene.