Tom Cruise Portrays a Classic Character in Forgettable Film
Once in a generation a movie comes along with an ideal American character out to dispose the world of criminals, villains and transgressors only to be handcuffed by the legal system. The most famous of those heroes was Dirty Harry, who in his pursuit of taking down the deranged killers of San Francisco found out his greatest nemesis happened to be City Hall. Today against the back drop of abandoning due process in favor of an invasion of privacy before potential terrorists attack comes a hero for the twenty-first century: Jack Reacher.
Jack Reacher, created by Lee Child, is a wandering ex-military police investigator. He has the skills of a police detective but also the experience and principals of a military man, which is, not to negotiate with but to take the enemy down. Luckily for honest citizens he’s on their side.
The first movie to come from the seventeen book series is "Jack Reacher" based on the ninth novel in the series, "One Shot." The most important step in bringing a popular literary character to the big screen is casting. Tom Cruise is the right choice. For a character whose countenance is similar to that of a hanging judge’s, Mr. Cruise brings Reacher an undercurrent of good humor and wit.
The next step in a successful adaptation is to throw the hero into a challenging puzzle that forces him to show off his skills. Here to the movie is successful. A former military sniper is being accused of killing five random victims in downtown Pittsburg. The evidence is stacked against him. Reacher arrives in Pittsburg and looks over the crime scene. His view of the crime and his acquaintance with the sniper has his instincts telling him something is amiss. The third step is to surround the hero with interesting and intelligent allies who help him solve the case and a cunning foe that forces Reacher and his allies to stretch their collective intuitiveness making the drama interesting. On this third step the makers of "Jack Reacher" have bumbled badly.
Written and directed by the Oscar winning screenwriter (for "The Usual Suspects") Christopher McQuarrie, "Jack Reacher" had the potential of becoming a classic action film. Instead Mr. McQuarrie has littered his screenplay and surrounded Reacher with nincompoops. The lead detective (David Oyelowo) and District Attorney (Richard Jenkins) seem at times to act more like fraternity brothers then law enforcement officials. It’s demeaning to their characters and we stop taking them and the movie seriously. Mr. Jenkins is a wonderful character actor and at times gives the District Attorney the dignity and intelligence he deserves but Mr. McQuarrie’s writing and direction turn him, at times, into a whinny and immature spoiler of scenes.
Reacher’s only ally is the sniper’s defense attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike) who also happens to be the District Attorney’s daughter. Ms. Rodin is poorly written. Some scenes she’s intelligent and courageous. In other scenes she’s lazy. She cannot see the connection between any of the five victims and doesn’t do the work to try and find out who would want to kill any of these people. She tells Reacher that the investigation is useless and that he’s crazy for trying to find a motive for setting up her client. It is frustrating to see the defense attorney give up so easily and try to discourage Reacher from looking at every angle especially when he is there to help her client. It doesn’t make Reacher look smarter; he just looks like an average guy who has to navigate around a lot of idiots.
The script was written without any imagination and uses too many gimmicks to make a point. For the first half of the movie women stop and gawk at Reacher as he walks past them. Why do we have to know that women think Reacher is attractive? You’ve cast Tom Cruise. But the device is meant to set up a bar fight. Eating alone Reacher is approached by a twenty-something girl, Sandy (Alexia Fast) who means to lure him outside so her cronies can rough him up. I guess we would have a hard time believing a twenty-something girl would want to pick up Tom Cruise in a bar. After the scene no other woman seems to think Reacher is worth stopping for and smiling at. Several scenes should have been left to the viewers’ imagination or just discarded. One is when Helen tries to learn the histories of the victims. She interviews a distraught father of a young victim and in the middle of the interview he reveals to be in the possession of a hand gun. The scene was crafted to be suspenseful but it’s a scene that doesn’t move the story forward and in that setting it becomes disturbing. Another scene we could have avoided was when the real sniper needs to dispose of Sandy. Not only do we see him in the act- he’s a two hundred pound killer, she’s a hundred pounds soaking wet, his success rate will be high- but we have to watch as he picks her up beginning with the old pick-up line, "Haven’t we met before?"
The most disappointing part of "Jack Reacher" is it had a chance to be a classic. Just like "Bullitt" or "The French Connection" it has a car chase. Unfortunately it is the laziest cinematic car chase you’ll witness. I don’t remember a car chase where the protagonist’s car zigzags through cars that are laid out perfectly for him to go around. Mr. McQuarrie would have served his movie and audience better if he just copied any of the chases from the afore mentioned movies. The other blown chance is a hand to hand fight between Reacher and the real sniper. The first mistake is making Reacher act against his character. The real sniper loses his weapon during a shoot out. Reacher throws his weapon away so they can go mano a mano. The character written in the book would have just killed him on the spot. What follows is an unimaginative fight scene, in the rain no less. Again, steal from the best: Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones movies, the sixties James Bond movies or anything coming out of Hong Kong today. This was underachieving at its finest.