The Jack Reacher movie character comes to us from a series of books written by Lee Child. Starting in 1997 with Killing Floor, Child has now released 17 books and some short stories that carry the adventures of Military Policeman and investigator Jack Reacher. The movie starring Tom Cruise was taken from the 2005 release of ‘One Shot’. Originally the screenplay was written by Josh Olsen but a turn of events including arbitration meant that Usual Suspects writer, Christopher McQuarrie became the writer and director.
The story of Jack Reacher is one of a loner, a thinking man’s vigilante and a man with hidden stories to be told. Lee Child has developed the character over 15 years of writing and the audience is used to the idiosyncrasies that make up this complex character. He is known for being on the move, never wearing clothes for more than two days and eating on the run with only a coffee constantly at hand. Three key things we pick up from his character are his disdain for religion, his love for the Blues and his attraction to mathematics. His fights are more about conducting the orchestra than playing the bassoon. In one fight with a two-metre tall thug, he is seen to turn him upside down and land him on his head. It’s one aspect of the movie that works with some brilliant fight choreography.
All of this background provided the preliminary irony for a fan base that didn’t expect Tom Cruise could fill the 6’ 5” shoes of a larger-than-life character. Not only was the 5’ 7” Cruise seen as out of sorts with the shadow of Reacher he also had the mismatch with Cruise’s approach to life and religion through the Church of Scientology. So how did Cruise match up on screen? Lee Child has been quoted as saying; “Reacher’s size in the books is a metaphor for an unstoppable force, which Cruise portrays in his own way.”
It’s true that Tom Cruise has shown an incredible amount of skill and determination in each role he plays. The recent outing in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol gained a great deal of credibility with fans and the public for the stunts the newly turned 50yo took on, particularly at the Burk Khalifa building in Dubai where he conducted wire stunts floors above the ground. If there is one thing that Cruise exudes it’s the epitome of smooth. In every scene, he communicates control. It’s a badge of honour for Cruise and it comes into the Reacher character. The question is, does this match the original character from the pages of the novel that fans came to love. While I haven’t read the Reacher novels I gain the sense from a number of fans that he’s more of a ‘donkey on the edge’ with a sense that any moment he may tip over the brink. That raw aspect of the character doesn’t come through and while the movie is quite a ride it doesn’t sing in the unpredictable quotient.
The cast is an eclectic mix with villain puppet master Werner Herzog providing some level of supreme antagonist but the character doesn’t reach the heights. His muscle man is picked up by Australian actor Jai Courtney, who may be known to readers from “Packed to the Rafters” and “All Saints”. Courtney adds some validity to the thug side of the equation and this is a great step-up role before we will see him as John McClane’s son Jack in next year’s Die Hard sequel A Good Day to Die Hard. Rosamund Pike becomes Reacher’s aide de camp in an investigation that must discover whether the opening discovery is of a villain or a victim. She steps outside of some of her better roles and this seems to almost be the blonde moll in a gangster movie. Her character is often not believable and sometimes laughable. It was interesting in a number of scenes to hear the audience laughing at what they felt were unbelievable comic moments, probably out of sync with the action genre.
One thing that is clear about this venture is that the two rules of movie production don’t play out so well. One being casting and the other the fortune teller’s curse of timing. The preview screenings were cancelled in the US because of the Connecticut shootings and the opening scene explains the validity of that decision. Whether the big movie production animal that promotes Jack Reacher will have to change tact in order to make the most of holiday screenings is yet to be seen.
The key to this review however is how important casting is to a successful venture. Many movies sink or swim on this aspect alone. Sometimes a director gets a pleasant surprise out of a last-minute scheduling change that gives them an unexpected actor but a surprise result. Can you imagine Tom Cruise in iRobot or Enemy of the State? Both were roles he was expected to take before they went to Will Smith. Let’s see if the reverse is also true and if the executives at Paramount can breathe a sigh of relief.
All up a fun ride but not quite the edge-of-your-seat event we expected. 3 out of 5 popcorns.