Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher
Rosamund Pike as Helen
Richard Jenkins as Rodin
David Oyelowo as Emerson
Herzog as The Zec
Jai Courtney as Charlie
Vladimir Sizov as Vlad
Joseph Sikora as Barr
Michael Raymond-James as Linsky
Alexia Fast as Sandy
Josh Helman as Jeb
Robert Duvall as Martin Cash
James Martin Kelly as Rob Farrior
Dylan Kussman as Gary
Denver Milord as Punk
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
Military sniper James Barr has been arrested for shooting five seemingly random people in Pittsburgh and he has asked for one “Jack Reacher,” a former Military Police who has become a mysterious wanderer and doesn’t want to be found. When Reacher (Tom Cruise) shows up in town, he begins to work with the shooter’s defense attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike) and a local detective (David Oyelowo) to try to find out the truth behind the shootings and prove Barr’s innocence.
The idea of adapting a novel of any kind can be a daunting process, but especially when the novel’s been read by so many people who already have a good idea how things should play out. Jonathan Demme faced that challenge with “The Silence of the Lambs” and David Fincher did the same with last year’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Although Lee Child’s “One Shot,” the basis for Christopher McQuarrie’s second film as a writer/director, never entered the public consciousness quite on a level as those other two, wandering justice seeker Jack Reacher has enough fans from Child’s 17 novels that it was only a matter of time before he made his way to the screen.
Many critics and fans of the books may have already written this movie off due to the obvious physical differences between Tom Cruise and Jack Reacher as described in Child’s books, but what may be tougher to get past is the opening scene as we watch random passers-by being shot by a sniper. Even though the situation is different from the recent murders in Newtown, it still casts enough of a shadow that when a woman with a child is in the killer’s gun sight, it’s jarring and hard to watch.
Wisely, the film doesn’t spend nearly as much time setting things up as the novel before bringing Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher into frame and regardless of your image of Reacher from reading the books, there’s no denying that what Tom Cruise brings to the table as a bonafide leading man goes a long way towards making the movie work. It’s nice seeing Cruise playing the kind of tough guy we might normally see from someone like Bruce Willis, not taking crap from anyone and taking out assailants with brutal quickness when attacked.
Cruise’s timing is spot-on when it comes to a quick quip and McQuarrie gives him lots of chances to deliver Child’s rapid-fire patter, especially with Rosamund Pike as lawyer Helen Rodin, who ends up having the most screen time with Cruise. The character doesn’t give Pike a chance to show off much of a range but they are good together, even playing up the assumed romance one might expect when you have two good-looking people of the opposite sex on screen together.
Even more brilliant casting comes in the form of German filmmaker Werner Herzog making a rare dramatic on-screen appearance as the main overlord, known only as The Zec, who has some really juicy scenes. The same can be said for getting Robert Duvall to play Martin Chase, a former Marine who runs a rifle range, and his scenes with Cruise show off a similar rapport as the younger Cruise had with Paul Newman in “The Color of Money.” If nothing else, those scenes help save the last act and make up for some of the weaker sections earlier in the film.
The amount of humor is surprising, but it’s always done with a dry delivery that keeps it from distracting from the serious nature of Reacher’s mission. Sometimes it can be seen simply with an exasperated look from Helen over Reacher’s behavior or the fact that the only auto parts store in town is called “Default Auto Parts” – that one probably went over many heads but got a laugh out of me both times. It’s that sort of cleverness that makes McQuarrie the perfect filmmaker to tackle this material with the results being a pleasant mix of McQuarrie’s sensibilities with those of Child. While there’s dialogue taken directly from the book, McQuarrie adds many of his own nice touches like making the victims more human and also playing up the father-daughter connection between the otherwise under-utilized Richard Jenkins with Pike.
Even so, it’s hard to ignore that McQuarrie is a far better writer than he is a director. Outside of the action, he takes a simple and non-flashy approach to telling the character-driven story, and there are long sections of the movie that drag, especially when Cruise isn’t on screen. A more experienced director may have found a better way to deal with the film’s more obvious pacing problems, but at least McQuarrie finds an innovative way to shoot the film’s single car chase sequences using Pittsburgh in the same way last year’s “Drive” used Los Angeles. It’s also hard to ignore the fact the movie feels so long and there could have easily been 15-20 minutes cut from the movie, and other than the principals, the casting of some of the smaller satellite character roles are lacking.
The Bottom Line:
Whether or not you’re already a fan of Lee Child’s books, there’s something to be said about this grown-up suspense thriller that relies as much on the procedural of solving the mystery as it does on the action. The pace is slow at times, but the results are satisfying enough to want more.