Review: Jack Reacher

Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Written by:Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog, Jai Courtneyl
Released: January 1, 2013
Grade: B+

Jack Reacher
A man gets into a white mini-van and drives to a quiet parking lot in central Pittsburgh.  He parks on one of the upper floors and slips a quarter into a parking metre.  The time has come.  He looks across the river with his long range rifle and starts firing.  Five random people are killed.  The man then jumps back into his van and flees the scene.

With 24 hours, the police have made an arrest.  The car, the gun and a fingerprint on the coin in the parking metre have led them to James Barr – an ex-army guy who now lives a solitary life.  He fits the profile and the evidence is overwhelming.  The District Attorney (Rodin) and lead detective (Oyelowo) just need to Barr to sign a confession statement and that’s it, the case will be closed.

As a member of the audience, we know that Barr is innocent.  Oh, and don’t worry.  I’m not giving away any spoilers.  Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (an Oscar winner for his screenplay for The Usual Suspects) toyed with the idea of not revealing the real killer’s identity but it would be too hard to keep that secret from the audience (who would already realise something is suspicious).  Further, test audiences much preferred the version where the real killer is known at the very start.

The characters don’t know this though.  Before being beaten into a coma whilst in custody, Barr wrote three words on a piece of paper – “get Jack Reacher”.  There’s a file on Reacher but details are sketchy.  He has no phone number, no email address and no driver’s licence.  All they know is that he was once a military police officer and that he “disappeared off the grid” about two years ago.

They won’t need to find him as Jack Reacher (Cruise) has already found them.  He turns up at the office of the District Attorney and introduces himself.  Reacher isn’t sure why Barr requested his presence (they weren’t even friends) and on quickly looking over the evidence, he comes to the same conclusion as the investigators – Barr is guilty.

He’s not leaving town just yet though.  Persuaded by Barr’s defence attorney, Helen Rodin (Pike), Reacher agrees to take a look at the crime scene and the case files.  The deeper he digs, the stranger things get.  When he is attacked a group of strangers in a bar, Reacher realises that something is clearly amiss.  Why is someone trying to stop him?

Fans of Lee Child’s novels may be disappointed (since Reacher is supposed to be 6’5”) but I had no problems with Tom Cruise in the leading role.  Who cares if he’s shorter in stature?  What’s more important is that Cruise has created a protagonist that is full of personality.  He has a sharp sense of humour (evidenced in so many scenes) and a smart, calculating mind that allows him to put the pieces together and extract evidence from possible witnesses.

The character that doesn’t work is Helen Rodin, the defence attorney.  Going against the advice of her father and her firm, she took on an unwinnable case – defending a man who is clearly guilty.  Why?  That question is never answered.  When Reacher starts digging up evidence that suggests Barr might be innocent, she’s suddenly disbelieving.  Again, why?  This is not a criticism of the beautiful Rosamund Pike (An Education) but rather the way in which her role has been framed.

On the whole, this is an engaging action-thriller that’s been nicely directed by McQuarrie.  The opening sequence, which doesn’t contain a single trace of dialogue, shows us that this won’t be a formulaic, paint-by-number exercise.  McQuarrie wants to give it a little style.  A clear highlight is a realistic car chase sequence that makes use of some great camera angles.  The odd casting of documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog, as the film’s villain, is also a cool move.

Things fall into place too easily in the finale but having now seen the film twice, I can confidently proclaim that Jack Reacher is worth a look – whether you like Tom Cruise or not.

You can read my chat with writer-director Christopher McQuarrie by clicking here.