Monday, 31 December 2012

Jack Reacher

Lee Child's much-loved literary hero, Jack Reacher, finally arrives on the big-screen after seventeen instalments of the best-selling thriller series.

It might never have happened but nothing gets a film moving like a Hollywood A-lister and Tom Cruise took a personal interest in the project. Ironically, Cruise's efforts have been rewarded with hugely negative backlash from the fans, mostly because he has cast himself as Reacher despite falling short of Reacher's trademark 6' 5'' height.

The trivial height debate has monopolised the discussion surrounding this film so let's hand over to Lee Child himself for the final word on this issue: "With another actor you might get 100% of the height but only 90% of Reacher. With Tom, you'll get 100% of Reacher with 90% of the height." And if Child is happy with the casting decision, then the Reacher-fanatics should be too.

And Child is right. Cruise is a great Reacher: quick-talking, quick-thinking, remorseless, intimidating and at ease with the action. Arguably, several actors could have handled such a role but few have Cruise's charm and he does well to instil Reacher with likeability and some humour. And Cruise also comes with the added benefit of being a one-man stunt machine so director Christopher McQuarrie can get up close in each action scene without needing to cut away to mask a random stunt actor. 

McQuarrie delivers an impressive first outing for Reacher, handling both writer and director duties. His script introduces the audience to all of Reacher's quirks, whether it be his photographic memory, bad-ass brawling skills or seriously diminutive wardrobe. Plot-wise, McQuarrie has picked an excellent Reacher novel to adapt, Child's novel One Shot, which offers an intriguing set-up but also an action-packed finale to keep the Friday night crowd happy. As such, it is very much a film of two halves.

McQuarrie handles both halves well. We know he is comfortable portraying complicated mysteries - after all, this is the guy who won a screen-writing Oscar for The Usual Suspects - and the opening set-up is well-established and cleverly revisited. The montage listing each of the victims is particularly well-executed. Less expected is McQuarrie's skill with the action scenes, whether it be claustrophobic fisticuffs or a tyre-scorching car chase. McQuarrie lets us feel every broken bone.

The biggest problem with Jack Reacher is the ending, where the film begins to run out of steam. The beginning is strong: a mysterious mass-killing, a wrongly-accused sniper and an enigmatic protagonist who wanders into town. But the twists are resolved about two-thirds into the movie and the final reel resorts to a tedious, bullets-flying, hostage rescue. There is even an added level of silliness as Reacher recruits a random shooting-range owner (Robert Duvall) to assist him in the rescue. Presumably, he used the same dial-a-wisecracking-veteran service that Bond used in the finale of Skyfall. It is a bland ending to an otherwise engaging mystery.

There is also a feeble supporting cast. Rosamund Pike's lawyer is solid but familiar, Jai Courtney's henchman is forgettable and Werner Herzog's villainous mastermind is clich├ęd and, at times, unintentionally funny. McQuarrie has clearly prioritised Reacher, giving him the best lines and all of the hero moments. Hopefully this was a well-meaning attempt to launch a franchise around Child's popular character and not just because Cruise wanted another star vehicle for himself.

Either way, Jack Reacher has succeeded in introducing audiences to Reacher. There is plenty of potential for sequels (sixteen more novels of material are waiting to be adapted) and, based on this evidence, audiences will be open to more.

Jack will be back.

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