As if Hollywood doesn’t already have enough badass crime stopper franchises in production, director Christopher McQuarrie wanted a shot at the genre with his own mysterious ex-militant investigator film, Jack Reacher. McQuarrie, a typical writer for such hits as The Usual Suspects and Valkyrie, has only directed one other film which was 2000’s The Way Of The Gun, meaning something about Jack Reacher really must have stirred enough interest to get him back in the directorial chair once again.
Could it have been Tom Cruise bringing his superstar talents aboard as the titular character? Was it Lee Child’s magnificently written novel franchise which created Reacher in the first place? Did he simply think no other visionary could handle his script in a way he’d approve of? Could have been a little bit of each, could have been none of the above, could have been he was in “director jail,” but let’s analyze how McQuarrie’s brand-new super-cop flick stacks up against the backlog of competition.
To understand the fictional character Cruise attempts to channel, let’s go back to Lee Child’s writing, dating Reacher’s first appearance at March 1997. The novel Killing Floor introduced readers to our blues loving protagonist, as he stumbled onto a southern counterfeiting ring which sets off a chain of events cementing Reacher as a certifiable butt-kicker.
I mean, just listen to his description if you don’t believe me. According to Child’s work, Jack Reacher stands 6′ 5” and weighs between 210-250, being a blonde haired, blue eyed Aryan barbarian powered by a scarily muscular build. Reacher could walk into a bar and intimidate even the hardest thugs just based on a dominating physical stature according to Child’s description.
Tom Cruise on the other hand, well, he cannot. Yes, the 5′ 7” Cruise doesn’t exactly fit Child’s version of Jack Reacher, but there’s more to a character than his simple physical appearance. Throw away the blonde hair, the blue eyes, the bulging muscles, and what are you left with? A super sleuth investigator with a knack for deductive problem solving and an intimidation factor based on years of military training. Anybody can have that. You don’t need sky blue eyes and wavy golden locks to do so.
Cruise brings a big screen personality and a very stern, business oriented vibe to Jack Reacher, one that perfectly compliments his brilliantly tactical brain and confidently persuasive demeanor. Cruise also brings charismatic intensity to Reacher that actually makes him seem exorbitantly more manly and macho than a lumbering giant would, using verbal cockiness and that sly, devilish smile which spoke volumes.
He’s a smaller dude, I know, and some might have a hard time seeing him as an action star capable of squashing Thug #2 and Criminal #5 like measly bugs, but I can assure you Cruise absolutely nails the character in terms of delivery. I look at his phone conversation with one of Werner Herzog’s henchmen as that stand-out moment where Cruise crosses the boundary from action hero to definitive character. Honestly, after actually experiencing Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher, I’m not sure anyone else could have pulled it off with such ease.
Another point of worry among Jack Reacher for my viewing pleasure was his relationship with a flustered lawyer played by Rosamund Pike, his sidekick of sorts. Of course with two big name co-ed stars working together and sharing numerous scenes, some type of hokey “office romance” is almost undoubtedly destined to stink up our screenplay. Without revealing anything spoilery, I can say Tom and Rosamund display fantastic chemistry, working together for a common goal, and any little hints at something larger than a work partnership are handled rather impressively by writer/director Christopher McQuarrie. Rosamund Pike’s character Helen benefits greatly from this situation, evolving from a stereotypical female counterpart to a full fledged and independent partner for Jack to work with, and an intriguing character in her own right.
When I compare Jack Reacher to similar genre lore with a manly main character and some evil plot at hand, I rather like how Christopher McQuarrie deals with the source material from both a scripting and directing point of view. Through his writing, McQuarrie is able to show usually unseen sides of the law and evoke emotion from different perspectives through the character of Helen, who in the film must defend an impossibly guilty man against her father who happens to be the D.A., but Jack Reacher forces her to see a different side of the case instead of just evidence and statistics. There’s an impressive amount of intelligence among a film that enjoys throwing typical characters into uncharted waters, evolving eloquently past usual beat-em-up good guy vs. bad guy on-screen thrills.
But have no fear action fans, because there still is a nice chunk of physical battles and a nifty car chase which we learned was driven by full-time actor/part-time racer extraordinaire Tom Cruise. Touching on what McQuarrie said in numerous interviews – yes, Tom Cruise isn’t the most intimidating man, but his size is kept in check around the film and he presents an awfully agile combatant when challenged hand to hand. There are a few scenes where he makes quick work of some street fighting thugs pretty impressively, and you’ll also notice he doesn’t take on the real hulkish brutes head on. I actually find it more fun watching him figure out ways to first outsmart bigger foes, enabling a scene ending blow or escape.
Although, I have to wag my finger at one particular fight scene in Jack Reacher which is so silly and out of place I momentarily felt transported to some awful cop comedy filled with incompetent nitwits. Not to spoil anything, but Reacher is assaulted by two thugs in an attack that should have ended the film right there, but since half the movie was still left, our assailants morph into Tweedledee and Tweedledum, doing their best to hit anything BUT Jack Reacher for an eye-rollingly long amount of time. Any tension or drama McQuarrie had built to that point is immediately incinerated in roaring flames of stupidity, and while funny, the scene ultimately fails in bringing serious comedy – at an unnecessary time I might add.
With that flub aside, I point again to excellent casting, this time with David Oyelowo and Werner Herzog.
I’ll start with Herzog first, an actor/writer/director triple threat who absolutely kills his ominous, brooding, and immensely intimidating European villain The Zec, speaking atmospheric volumes by doing absolutely nothing. Just looking into Herzog’s cold, dead eyes and listening to his atrocious stories of times better left forgotten are enough to convey how sick and evil of a person The Zec is without actually making him physically commit any heinous crimes.
Oyelowo on the other hand does a lot of talking and gets a considerable amount of screen time, providing an equatable counterpoint for Tom Cruise to feed off of. David’s character Emerson is none too happy Jack Reacher has rolled into town and is busting his case wide open, so you can imagine the tension built between the two. Such feelings translate into a bitter rivalry and make for an interesting dynamic on screen, played nicely by the two actors. Jack Reacher should be another addition to Oyelowo’s quickly growing list of memorable roles.
So what did I learn from Christopher McQuarrie’s on-screen adaptation of Lee Child’s famous book franchise? For one, I’m glad McQuarrie has been released from “director jail,” and can’t wait to see what he’ll helm next (possibly Mission Impossible 5?). I also learned that a brilliant, yet mildly controversial cast that gets to the core of Child’s source material with top-notch acting chops swiftly can calm angry protesters claiming integrity would be lost by casting someone not “fitting” of Child’s written descriptions. Staying true to such details would have actually put the film at risk, and as McQuarrie so brilliantly commented when discussing all the fan backlash and people against Cruise’s casting, “Well if they’re going to be angry, let’s make sure they’re angry before they see the movie and not after they see the movie.
Jack Reacher teaches us that not every action piece has to be full throttle insanity, and some films benefit from intelligent design to balance out scenes of ass-kickery and henchmen deaths.