Jack Reacher triumphs over its shortcomings

Much of the development buzz around the new Jack Reacher project centred on the choice of just who would fill the eponymous big man’s considerable boots.  Faced with the difficult task of casting a bankable Hollywood star who could meet the physical specs (6’5” and 230 pounds) of the character, the producers of Jack Reacher eventually opted to choose ability over attributes.  So the diminutive Tom Cruise, noted for his fearless attitude towards doing his own stuntwork and with a hugely successful action franchise already to his name, became the most obvious of unlikely choices.  News that Cruise had been cast as Reacher was met with a notable groan from fans of British author Jim Grant’s (aka Lee Child) series of novels based around the exploits of the former US military policeman.  However, the final product from director Christopher McQuarrie shows that size isn’t everything as Cruise more than delivers in a film that always finds a way to entertain.

Adapted from Child’s 2005 novel One Shot, Jack Reacher opens in intense fashion.  A view from a sniper’s cross-hairs marks the killer’s targets one by one before thunderous gunshots ring out; six in total, dropping five victims.  It’s as effective as any opening sequence gets before a rapidly pieced together segment shows the Pittsburgh police tracking down and arresting the killer.  The problem here is that it becomes quickly evident that the man in custody, who quickly requests Reacher’s presence, has been set up.  This leaves the audience a full-step ahead of Reacher, who agrees to investigate the murders on behalf of the accused’s defence attorney, Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), in order to ensure that the right man goes down for the murders.  Luckily, watching Cruise’s Reacher catch up and expose the bigger picture is plenty of fun, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that Jack Reacher could have been more suspenseful than it proves to be.

Cruise does his most to overcome his lacking stature by ramping up the no-nonsense intensity.  His Reacher isn’t the most likable of characters and Cruise conveys an often-smug anti-hero dead-set on bringing the villains to the justice that he deems appropriate.  In many ways, Jack Reacher builds on what Taken did right in creating a one-man force to reckon with, whilst avoiding the missteps Taken 2 made.  There are moments where the otherwise intelligent crime-thriller, becomes comically daft via incompetent thugs and diabolical dialogue (but then, who wouldn’t enjoy drinking blood from a boot?).  Yet, while there is an array of absurdity throughout the film, the intensity with which Cruise carries on keeps the plot afloat and moving towards its biggest twists and turns.  Pike is solid support, as is Richard Jenkins, who always deserves more screen time.  Robert Duvall makes good with an extended cameo appearance, as does the esteemed Werner Herzog, here playing the evil, foreign mastermind behind the conspiracy.

In his second effort at the helm (following 2000’s The Way of the Gun) McQuarrie has composed an assured action-thriller.  The comedic beats may cause the tone to wobble at times, but the action sequences are crisp, carrying with them a significant impact that is too often lacking in such films.  The score comes down a bit too hard, taking the overall experience unnecessarily over-the-top, adding to the sense that Jack Reacher is a hyper-charged take on the grittier, realistic actioners that have been fashionable for the past 20 years.

In many ways Jack Reacher is the logical follow up to Taken that Taken 2 should have been.  A smart, action-packed crime thriller that dares to be stupid (and gets away with it), Cruise again makes the most of his limited height by creating another larger-than-life character onscreen.  The irony is that the limitations of the written word mean that, on paper it would be impossible to buy a character of Cruise’s sub-5’8” frame as a significant threat to anyone, let alone armed gangs of beefy baddies.  However, in front of the cameras, when it comes to busting heads with serious charisma and intensity, no one does it better than Cruise.  As a result, Jack Reacher is more electrifying than stupid and provides plenty of punchy entertainment.  8.5/10

Jack Reacher is in UK cinemas 26 December

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