He has no possessions, and he owns only the clothing on his back; he’s a drifter who answers to no one, has no friends, and moves from town to town to make right what is wrong. He is the Man With No Name…oh wait, wait, sorry, it’s Jack Reacher, and throughout this movie people can’t stop saying his name. By the fourth or fifth time somebody gruffly asks, “Who the hell is Jack Reacher?” it becomes a bit laughable, but it’s another mention of the character’s name that sparks the plot of the movie.
James Barr (Joseph Sikora), an ex-military sniper has just been booked for a horrific and seemingly random shooting massacre in downtown Pittsburgh – a plot point somewhat unfortunately timed considering the recent real life tragedy in Connecticut – and all evidence points to him. When he’s taken in by detective Emerson (Daniel Oyelowo)and district attorney Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins) they think it’s an open and shut case, but Barr says nothing and scrawls three words on a piece of paper meant for his confession: “GET JACK REACHER.”
Emerson and Rodin are befuddled, and before either of them can say another “Who the hell is Jack Reacher?” he shows up in the form of Tom Cruise, who seems to wear the same leather jacket in every movie he’s in. Reacher, the aforementioned former Army cop/vagabond, accepts the unofficial position of lead investigator for Barr’s defense led by Rosamund Pike playing Helen Rodin, the D.A.’s daughter, adding some implausible father/daughter tension to the proceedings.
Reacher’s know-it-all sleuthing begins and he explains – in many scenes of exposition – that the killings weren’t as simple as they first seemed, and Barr has been set up as a patsy. There are too many times where Reacher and Rodin are together or on the phone with him just telling her the ways in which the plot thickens. Pike does a good job with the laughably pulpy dialogue she’s given, but the character is so incompetent you wonder how she even became a lawyer in the first place. She must be caught up in Reacher’s (alleged) sexual machismo and weary charm, as women and men alike swoon over the guy as he breezes (or bruises) through a room.
I couldn’t help but wonder why Cruise is in this movie at all. His name is usually plastered on big budget tentpoles – this one is based on the Lee Child novel “One Shot,” one of sixteen other Jack Reacher books — but maybe he saw his opportunity to pull a Neeson and try to become a badass à la Taken. The tagline of this movie is “Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher,” but the emphasis seems to point towards “Jack Reacher is Tom Cruise.” Cruise the man seems bigger than Reacher the character, and even though it is cool to see Tom Cruise maneuver some brutal tough-guy takedowns, a real character for him to embody never emerges.
Speaking of characters – none other than German weirdo-auteur Werner Herzog arrives as the shadowed and sadistic baddie known only as “The Zec.” You wanna know how weirdly menacing this character is? Let me describe it for you: he plays a shady former Siberian prisoner with one clouded eye and missing fingers that he chewed off while in captivity in order to know what pain truly felt like. Normal moviegoers might ask who the creepy foreign guy is, but film geeks will get a kick out of Herzog chewing the scenery and spouting off a mixture of his usual journeyman philoso-babble mixed with Bond villain lines.
Writer and director Christopher McQuarrie – most known as the screenwriter of The Usual Suspects – does a better-than-normal job with the film. At points the dialogue is extremely cheesy, but it has a droll and snappy spirit at heart. Directing-wise, his adroit handling of the multiple perspectives surrounding the shooting scene is notable, as well as the expert approach to the film’s car chase – perhaps the best thing in the movie. This balls-to-the-wall race around Pittsburgh alleyways is thrilling because in the classic sense you know exactly where each good guy and bad guy are in proximity to one another as they speed around and it remains thrilling, plus it seems as though Cruise is doing the actual driving. If there was CGI it was masked extremely well, and the harrowing close-calls make you teeter with glee on the edge of your seat.
The inevitable showdown is par for the course, and ends basically how you would imagine it would end, but when the lights go up it’s safe to say it was a pretty fun time getting there. Plus, in what other movie will you ever get to hear Tom Cruise say he’s going to drink somebody else’s blood? If you’re looking for something not too overly ambitious but a great ride nonetheless, look no further. If you don’t catch it in theaters this crowded holiday season it’d be a great one to see on TV when all you want is some old school-leaning action thrills.