Jack Reacher (2012)
Christopher McQuarrie’s Jack Reacher (2012) is an action-packed murder mystery based on the popular series of novels (18 so far, with #19 on the way) by Lee Child, which depicts the life of an ex-military investigator intent on dishing out justice even when the law does not. Jack Reacher first appeared in 1997, but despite this being his movie debut, the film is based on the 2005 novel One Shot, the ninth book in the series.
The film begins on an seemingly average afternoon in Pittsburgh, PA. Unbeknownst to the people spending time near PNC Park, a sniper sits in a parking garage waiting for the perfect time to strike. He moves back and forth with his scope, and in one breath takes out five people before making his escape.
In the next scene, the police raid the suspect’s apartment, only the guy they’re arresting isn’t the guy who did the shooting. Instead, the police take in an ex-military sniper by the name of James Barr. In his interrogation, Barr is offered the chance to take a plea deal or go up against D.A. Rodin (Richard Jenkins) and face the death penalty. But instead of signing his confession, he simply writes out “GET JACK REACHER” and hands it to his interrogators.
The lead investigator Det. Emerson (David Oyelowo) tries to dig up any information he can find on this Jack Reacher character and ascertain his whereabouts. But apart from a long list of military awards and a distinguished career in the Army, the man seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. A few days later, Reacher himself (Tom Cruise) abruptly shows up on his own accord to pay Barr a visit.
Unfortunately, when Barr was being moved between prisons, he was beaten into a coma by his fellow inmates. Upon seeing this, Reacher is ready to leave town, but Rodin’s daughter Helen (Rosamund Pike), who also happens to be Barr’s defense attorney, steps in and convinces him to help investigate the case and prove Barr’s innocence.
Reacher finally explains how he knows Barr: the guy was a sniper serving in Iraq who couldn’t control his overwhelming desire to kill. He assassinated four men randomly, but because all four men were being accused of committing various atrocities, Barr was never prosecuted. Reacher was an investigator on the case, and vowed to kill Barr if he ever decided to act on his urges again.
But for confusing reasons, Reacher agrees to help the guy anyway. He immediately begins to check out the crime scene so he can get into Barr’s frame of mind.
It doesn’t take long before Reacher begins to think that Barr isn’t actually the killer. But in the time it takes him to figure this out, someone else has decided that Jack Reacher needs to disappear. That someone is a mysterious Russian mobster known simply as “the Zec” (played by renowned director Werner Herzog) who spent most of his life in a Soviet gulag and had to chew off his own fingers when they turned gangrenous.
After a few fights with some of the Zec’s lackies, Reacher gets back on track and finds out that the sniper’s targets weren’t just random shootings. Rather, one of the targets was a major business owner who refused to sell her company. The sniper took out the owner and a few other people so the slaughter would look like a random attack, allowing the Russian mob to take over her company and use it as a front to quietly conduct their affairs.
When the mobsters find out Reacher is on their trail, they decide to get rid of him. They first try to kill him off by staging an oddly elaborate bar fight where a woman (Alexia Fast) comes onto Reacher, gets offended when he rejects her, and then gets five guys to beat him up. Naturally, Reacher easily takes on all five guys at once.
Once the bad guys figure out that Reacher is harder to kill than they thought, they decide to frame him for the murder of the woman who started the bar fight.
Reacher is soon on the run from the cops, and after a lengthy car chase scene, he manages to casually shake them off and carry on with his hunch that Barr was framed by a supposed friend. A little research leads him to a gun range in Ohio. He meets the owner of the range, Martin Cash (Robert Duvall), and impresses him enough with his marksmanship to get access to the range’s security videos.
Reacher finds out the real sniper is a guy named Charlie (Jai Courtney). But before he can act on this information, he gets word that Helen has been taken hostage by the Zec with the help of Emerson, who turns out to be a mole for the Russian mob.
Reacher and Cash jump into action to save Helen. After a few clever tricks involving using Helen’s car as a distraction and some precision sniper shooting from Cash, Reacher finds Helen and those who framed Barr.
He has the real sniper dead to rights, but Reacher tosses away his gun so they can have a big mano a mano fistfight. Yes, there’s actually a movie made in 2012 that indulges in the “fight me like a man!” trope.
The movie ends with Reacher holding the Zec at bay while Helen calls the cops. But the Zec taunts Reacher, telling him that an American jail is like a “retirement home” compared to what he’s seen, and there’s no way he’s going to jail anyway, because Reacher just killed everyone who could testify against him. And at the same time, the cops still want Reacher for murder.
And so, Reacher just point-blank shoots Zec, then decides to skip town and go on the run. But not before having a tender farewell with Helen (which bizarrely happens just minutes after he kills a man in cold blood). There’s also an odd postscript where Barr comes out of his coma and basically confesses to the sniper attack he didn’t commit, because he’d rather be in jail then face the kind of justice he might receive from Jack Reacher.
If you’re a big fan of Tom Cruise action movies then you might enjoy this one. Cruise plays his usual macho action hero, which works… in some ways, anyway. Reacher is portrayed in the film as overly cocky and at times arrogant, rather than the mysterious and elusive Reacher from the books (who, by the way, is also supposed to be blonde and 6’5”). But Cruise tackles the role of an action antihero well, even though at age fifty, he’s probably getting too old for this. And lately, it seems as if he’s playing the same character in every movie, and if you’re looking for Cruise to break out of his usual box in this film, you’re out of luck.
The action in Jack Reacher is pretty good, but when it comes to story and dialogue things take a huge dive. The plot is filled with all sorts of arbitrary complications, and it feels like it goes on endlessly for hours. Every time you think the movie is wrapping up, it throws another unnecessary curveball at you (the late introduction of Robert Duvall’s character being a big one). Also, the whole plot falls apart once you think about it for more than five seconds: somehow, a random mass killing is going to arouse less suspicion than simply ordering a hit on one woman and burying her in the woods?
The length of the film wouldn’t be as much of a problem if the dialogue weren’t so incredibly lacking. The cheesy action one-liners are bad, but at least you can laugh at those. The actual conversations, however, never seem to flow at all—the scene with Reacher talking to the woman in the bar is unbearably awkward. But I’m sure the writing could have come off better if Cruise didn’t seem so stiff and bored in this role.
Overall, this seems to be a bit of a throwback to testosterone-heavy “cop on the edge” action films of the 1980s, but as this film proves, that’s not really something we need to be thrown back to. But if you’re just looking for some decent action sequences tenuously strung together by a rather thin mystery, then this is the movie for you.