CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: JACK REACHER (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Today’s movie, JACK REACHER, has as its villain a sniper who shoots some innocent people in a rather jarring opening scene.
L.L. SOARES: In light of the recent horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut, we’re just not in the mood to joke about this stuff.
MA: That being said, our somber mood doesn’t in any way detract from our feelings towards this movie, one way or the other.
LS: Nor do we believe such movies cause people to commit violent acts.
MA: We both have seen our share of ridiculously violent movies, and we, like you, readers, take them for what they are: fiction, not reality.
LS: Anyway, moving right along, hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s Cinema Knife Fight review. This time around we’re reviewing the new movie JACK REACHER, starring Tom Cruise.
MA: I’m not a Tom Cruise fan, so I wasn’t really looking forward to this one.
LS: You mean a new Tom Cruise movie isn’t a big event in the Arruda household?
LS: So, does that mean you hated JACK REACHER?
MA: You know me better than that. You know I have an open mind.
LS: You have a mind?
MA: I have a mind to throw a cream pie in your face!
MA: Anyway, why don’t you tell everyone what this movie is about first?
JACK REACHER is a character who has appeared in numerous novels by writer Lee Child (real name Jim Grant). This particular movie is based on Child’s novel ONE SHOT.
As the movie opens, we see a man in a multi-level parking garage aiming a sniper rifle. He looks around at various people in a park before he starts firing on them, killing five people. The police are able to track down a suspect and arrest James Barr (Joseph Sikora), who is back home after a stint in the Army in Afghanistan. When he is being interrogated by the police, he writes down “Get Jack Reacher,” but the police cannot find this man, since he lives off the grid and does not have a permanent address, or anything else that leads back to him. Reacher (Tom Cruise) sees Barr’s face on the news, however, and goes to the police station to investigate. The police, who have been unable to find Reacher, are surprised when he shows up on his own.
Reacher is a former military policeman, and at first, it’s not clear why Barr asked for him. Everyone assumes that Reacher is his friend, but Jack denies this. He discusses the case with the arresting officer, Emerson (David Oyelowo) and the District Attorney, Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins, who we recently saw previously this year in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS and KILLING THEM SOFTLY), who is prosecuting Barr, but when they are not willing to involve Reacher in their investigation (they only give him a limited number of facts), he says he is leaving town. What stops him is Rodin’s daughter Helen (Rosamund Pike) who is also a lawyer like her father, but she is defending Barr.
Reacher reveals that, in the Army, he tracked some murders down to Barr, but Barr was able to avoid being imprisoned. However, Barr is afraid of Reacher and swore to the man at the time of his arrest back then that he would never do anything like that again. It turns out that Barr asked for Reacher’s involvement because things may not be as they seem in this particular case. And if anyone can uncover the truth, it’s an investigative pit bull like Reacher. Jack works with Helen Rodin to find the truth, both for Reacher’s peace of mind, and for Helen to be able to defend Barr in court.
The more Reacher snoops around, the more it becomes clear that someone doesn’t want him sticking his nose in the investigation. Things are done to get Reacher to drop the case, but he isn’t so easy to get rid of. The storyline eventually involves a long, high-speed car chase, and a bloody showdown at a construction site.
Just what is Barr’s involvement in this case? Who is trying to eliminate Reacher? And who can he trust? These are just some of the questions that pop up during the course of JACK REACHER.
I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one. Based on the trailers, I thought it was a movie where Cruise would be playing an unstoppable killing machine, like he did in the movie COLLATERAL (2004), where he played a merciless hit man. But JACK REACHER was different than the way the trailers made him look.
MA: Yes, the movie did play out differently from what was hinted at in the trailers, which for me, was a good thing. I expected a DIRTY HARRY clone, a glossy and superficial storyline with Cruise smart-assing his way through the script, but that’s not what JACK REACHER is at all. Fortunately, it’s better than that.
LS: Instead of playing an over-the-top vigilante, Cruise is rather low-key as Reacher, keeping things intense throughout. You’re never exactly sure what Reacher’s limits are, and if he is willing to cross certain moral and legal lines to achieve his goals. While reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s iconic Dirty Harry character, Reacher is more complex, and it’s interesting to see Cruise bring the character to life.
In the books, Reacher is six foot five and about 250 pounds. He’s an intimidating character. Obviously, Tom Cruise does not share the same dimensions, and yet, he’s able to make it work. You believe he is a driven, formidable individual who is not to be messed with.
MA: And that’s the best part of Cruise’s performance for me. I believed him in this role, and I bought that he could do the things he does in this movie. While watching the film, I believed I was watching a guy named Jack Reacher, not golden boy actor Tom Cruise doing his shtick.
So, I have to admit, I enjoyed Cruise a lot in this movie. He did a good job bringing Jack Reacher to life, especially since he’s not a huge hulking figure like the character in the book. The other thing that worked for me is that while Cruise still looks great for his age (he’s 50) he’s looking a little older here, a bit more weathered and rougher around the edges, and it added to the believability of his character.
Cruise seemed natural in the role, and he never came off as arrogant, which I liked. All in all, he makes for a very compelling Jack Reacher.
LS: The rest of the cast is pretty good, too. Especially Rosamund Pike as Helen.
MA: Really? I wasn’t as crazy about Pike. I thought she ran hot and cold. While I believed Helen was a smart attorney, she too often took a back seat to Jack Reacher and his unconventional methods. She spends most of the movie reacting to things he’s done, rather than doing things on her own. Now, I realize this is a movie about Jack Reacher, but this is what I’m talking about in terms of Pike’s performance: she didn’t flesh out Helen as much as I wish she had. Ultimately she’s there just to be rescued, and for a dedicated attorney who really wanted to keep her client off death row, I never really felt this passion.
I enjoyed her more, going back a ways, in the Pierce Brosnan James Bond flick DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002), in which she had a small but memorable role.
LS: I thought Pike’s character in JACK REACHER was believable as a woman who is not totally confident in what she is doing; who wonders if taking on this case was a mistake at one point. She is willing to let Reacher take over, because he is much more determined and not easily swayed when people try to put him off the scent. She’s not a particularly self-assured character, and I liked that. The fact that she does become sort of a damsel in distress toward the movie’s end was a little distressing, but it fit the storyline and didn’t strain believability The fact is, not everyone’s brave all the time, or indestructible.
Richard Jenkins as D.A. Alex Rodin, and German director Werner Herzog, as a mysterious man called The Zec, are also very good. I am a big fan of Herzog, as a director. He has made some cinema classics, like AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD (1972) and FITZCARRALDO (1982), both of which starred the great Klaus Kinski, and he has recently been making some documentaries as well, some of which have been quite popular, like GRIZZLY MAN (2005). He has done some acting before, mostly in independent films like Harmony Korine’s movies JULIEN DONKEY-BOY (1999) and MISTER LONELY (2007), and he’s quite good here.
MA: Jenkins delivers another excellent performance in what is becoming a regular occurrence, and Werner Herzog is very creepy as the villain The Zec. The only problem I had with the character is when all is said and done, his villainous plans don’t seem anywhere near as dastardly as you would expect from a guy as scary as he is. While Herzog creates a disturbing heavy in The Zec, the guy’s not exactly the most ambitious villain you’ll see in a movie.
LS: I agree. Herzog goes to all this trouble to make The Zec creepy as hell, and you think this is going to lead to some truly intense confrontation between him and Reacher at the end, and what happens is a bit of a disappointment. Although, what happens is believable behavior for both of their characters.
Even Robert Duvall shows up late in the film, as a former Marine named Cash who runs a shooting range, and who becomes Reacher’s unlikely ally.
MA: I thought Duvall was great.
And I also really liked Alexia Fast as Sandy, a young woman who crosses paths with Reacher when her not-so-smart friends are hired to rough up Reacher, and she’s used as bait. Things don’t turn out too well for them. But Fast makes Sandy both sexy and vulnerable, and you really feel for her, as does Reacher, in an almost paternal way. For a small role, I thought Fast stood out as Sandy
LS: I agree, I liked Fast a lot as Sandy. I thought she would have a bigger role in the movie as it developed, but she’s in it just as long as she needs to be. She’s a stand-out here, and I want to see more of her. She really shines.
I also really liked Jai Courtney in the role of Charlie, who turns out to be the main villain here. Courtney previously played Varro in the Showtime series SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE (2010), and I think he is just as intense as Reacher by the end of this movie. Early on, you think he’s going to be a pushover, but he’s not at all, and there’s a great fight scene toward the end between him and Reacher.
MA: Yes, that is a great fight scene, and I liked Courtney a lot too.
LS: Aside from the acting, I also found the storyline pretty riveting.
LS: The screenplay is by Christopher McQuarrie, who also gave us the scripts for the excellent THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995), and another Tom Cruise movie, VALKYRIE (2008). McQuarrie also directed JACK REACHER, and this is his second time in the director’s chair (the first was THE WAY OF THE GUN (2000) starring Ryan Phillipe and Benicio Del Toro, which I also liked). The script and the direction here are quite good.
MA: I agree. JACK REACHER is a riveting movie, and one of the reasons why is the direction by Christopher McQuarrie. There’s some pretty cool fight scenes in this one, and one helluva car chase sequence that was as good as anything we saw in DRIVE (2011) and reminded me of one of the all-time best car chases on film, the Steve McQueen movie BULLITT (1968) directed by Peter Yates.
LS: There are also some great scenes of dark humor, like whenever Reacher goes up against the local thugs. I actually laughed out loud a couple of times.
MA: You’re right. There were some genuine funny lines.
And while I enjoyed the script, in that Reacher has a lot of memorable lines, and the dialogue rings true throughout, I thought the plot grew more contrived as it went along. The whole conspiracy aspect gets old, and then it plays the “someone you trust is really working for the bad guys” card. While the character of Jack Reacher remains compelling throughout the movie, I can’t say the same for the plot. I thought it grew predictable towards the end.
LS: The last 15 minutes or so are the weakest part of the movie in my opinion, and things tie up a little too easily after the complexity of the rest of the movie. But it’s not enough to ruin what came before it.
MA: While I liked the pacing for the most part, I thought at two hours and ten minutes that it ran a little long. I could have used about 15 minutes shaved off this one.
LS: I’m always complaining about how movies seem to be longer than they need to be. It’s quantity over quality, with directors and studios thinking movies have to be long to seem worth the price of a movie ticket, often to the detriment of the movie itself. But, in this case, I thought JACK REACHER was fine at its length. There never was one part that I felt went on longer than it needed to. And I thought the pacing was good.
Except for some issues I had with the ending, JACK REACHER works, and it’s a good vehicle for Cruise, who clearly would like to turn this into a franchise (there are about 18 books so far in the series, so there’s a lot of possible material there).
MA: And that would take him into his 70s, where he’d still be sporting dark brown hair and kicking bad guys’ butts. Will Cruise ever show some gray hair?
LS: One word of warning, however. Some audience members may have an issue with the overwhelming use of guns throughout the movie.
MA: Guns in a movie? Oh my! It’s guns in real life they ought to be worried about.
LS: I agree, and I hesitate to bring this up. But in the beginning of the film, especially, where the sniper kills his victims, it may be too much for some viewers after the recent real-life tragedy in Connecticut. This will not be true of everyone, but I wanted to put it out there. As time goes on, and people see this movie later on DVD or Netflix, they’ll wonder what all the hubbub was about. It’s all about timing.
MA: Yeah, in that way, the timing for the release of this movie couldn’t have been worse. In fact, it was supposed to open in some markets last week, but the producers delayed its premiere.
And yes, the opening scene is very jarring because of what just happened in Connecticut. I found it painful to watch, as I’m sure a lot of other people will as well.
But moving away from real life for a moment, another reason this scene is so riveting is the way it’s shot by director McQuarrie. It’s shot through the eye of the shooter, and as such it’s a very uncomfortable scene to watch, and yet, it’s not tasteless in terms of graphic violence. I’m not even sure we actually see someone shot. I think the shots occur off camera in quick clever cut-ways just at the dreaded moment.
LS: Yet it’s intense, and it works.
MA: This scene would have been tasteless if the movie were glorifying sniper shooting, but it’s not doing that at all. Sure, there’s a lot of killing in this movie, but none of it is glorified.
For a PG-13 movie, I thought JACK REACHER did a good job cranking up the intensity. In addition to this opening scene, there’s also a disturbing scene involving someone chewing his own fingers off. Now, nothing is shown here, but it still works. It’s compelling storytelling.
LS: That scene involves The Zec, and again, I was disappointed they built him up to be such a scary character and then pretty much don’t do anything with him.
I was surprised it was PG-13, because it didn’t seem to be sanitized or dumbed down, like a lot of movies are to reach a wider audience. JACK REACHER has teeth. It’s a solid thriller, and a better movie than I expected. I give it three knives.
MA: I give it three knives as well. I also liked it more than I thought I would. Jack Reacher is a character who I enjoyed watching, and I think I’d enjoy seeing him in other movies as well. And Tom Cruise does a nice job bringing this guy to life.
Jack Reacher is a character who I enjoyed watching, and I think I’d enjoy seeing him in other movies as well. And Tom Cruise does a nice job bringing this guy to life.
In addition to being a solid action movie, JACK REACHER is also a decent detective film, as it’s fun seeing how Reacher goes about piecing together clues and figuring out the answers to many of the movie’s questions. The evidence against his friend is overwhelming, yet Reacher sees a something right away at the crime scene which raises a red flag for him, and what he sees, as he explains it, makes perfect sense to us the audience.
LS: As Reacher says several times in the movie, Barr is not his friend.
MA: Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher probably does more sleuthing than Robert Downey Jr. in the recent SHERLOCK HOLMES movies.
While I found the plot somewhat more contrived towards the end, the concluding segment to JACK REACHER, where Reacher has to come to the rescue of Helen, I found very satisfying. It’s an exciting sequence.
That being said, things do get wrapped up neat and tidy by the end of the movie, probably too much for my tastes, although I didn’t have a major problem with this since it sort of fits in with Jack Reacher’s style. He’s a slick professional who never leaves traces of himself behind. When he finishes a job, he makes a clean exit, disappearing into the night once more.
JACK REACHER is a very good movie, solid and compelling throughout, well worth a trip to the movies.
And on that note, we leave you.
LS: Until next time.
(MA & LS exit in silence, as 26 candles illuminate the field behind them.)
© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives JACK REACHER ~ three knives!
LL Soares gives JACK REACHER ~three knives.