Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher.

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By Patricia Ducey. You need to stop humming Hugh Jackman’s showstopping tunes and puddling up – especially in grocery lines. You’ve also just realized that Tehran isn’t Paris – and that no matter how glamorous foreign service looks, it’s probably a good thing you “forgot” to follow through on that State Department job app all those years ago. Plus, you’ve just run out of chocolate-covered candy canes and leftover champagne and have nothing for dinner.

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Yes, the holiday parties, the fall movies – Life of Pi’s fantastical 3D journey to enlightenment, Ben Affleck’s paean to the unsung heroes at the CIA and State Department, and the glorious Les Misérables (triumphant over some febrile staging) – they have been rich and tasty this season, but humdrum January is approaching, real life, and you need something or someone to snap you out of it.

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And Jack Reacher is just that guy.

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Because Jack Reacher is a “ghost.” He’s a cool – as in, “ice-in-your-veins” cool – ghost, and he’s a loner. You don’t know how he got this way but it probably has something to do with his military service. You may find out if there are subsequent films. Or, if you’re a purist, you could read the books. But that might ruin the fun.

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Adapted by writer/director Christopher McQuarrie from author Lee Child’s One Shot (from the Jack Reacher series, which I have not read), and produced by Tom Cruise, this old fashioned mystery thriller is fun — and delivers just enough mayhem and clever plotting to keep all but the most jaded critics on board. McQuarrie, who burst upon the Hollywood scene as the screenwriter of the witty, unconventional The Usual Suspects and is now a Cruise collaborator (2008’s Valkyrie, possibly the forthcoming Mission: Impossible 5), delivers another clever whodunit here with plenty of fresh twists and turns, humor, and even a mysterious super-arch fiend, a la Keyser Soze, to keep you interested.

The story is set in gritty, noirish Pittsburgh and opens with a mad sniper in a parking structure across the river from the Pirates’ baseball park picking off five random people. A SWAT team of cops, decked out in full military swag, arrive at his precise location quickly but futilely – the sniper is long gone. But Detective Emerson (David Oyelowo) swiftly retrieves the cartridges and fingerprints and assorted evidence – and a mere 16 hours later sits, smirking, across from suspect James Barr along with the D.A. That was easy! The suspect listens in despair as they tick off the mountain of evidence against him. He reaches for the typed confession to sign; but as Emerson and DA Rodin (Richard Jenkins) smugly congratulate themselves on their slam dunk, Barr writes “Get Jack Reacher” on the dotted line instead of his signature. And off we go.

But who is this Jack Reacher, and what does he have to do with this rampage? Suffice it to say, Reacher is a good guy, a former military man – and, in his words, “a loner who just wants to be left alone.” He talks with the suspect’s lawyer (who is also the DA’s daughter), attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), who soon hires Reacher to help exonerate or win an insanity plea for her client. But Reacher has his own reasons for chasing this case, and he plays cat and mouse with the cops and his employer almost until the end.

Wisely, Cruise and McQuarrie foreground the plot and the actors here; there is no bombastic musical score to telegraph plot points, and they keep the gore and mayhem at realistic levels. Also, there are no special effects; Cruise never outruns an exploding fireball, and the movie sports only one serious car chase. Yet with Cruise at the helm of a stolen red Camaro, gunning it up and down Pittsburgh streets Bullitt-style (outrunning Emerson and his cops and a van full of bad guys, too), it’s a doozy.

Blond in peril: Rosamund Pike and Tom Cruise in "Jack Reacher."

Cruise does well in an understated performance as Reacher. He honors the literary Reacher, but he can beat down a bigger, badder guy too because he’s smart. “I think,” he sneers at one felled thug, “You oughta try it.” Rosamund Pike is also smart, brave and still a credible wide-eyed blond in peril. David Oyelowo proves an able foil to Reacher, radiating an intense intelligence that detective characters often lack. Richard Jenkins doesn’t have much to do, but he keeps us guessing as to whether he’s a good guy or not – often with just the twitch of an eyebrow.

And just when the clues start to coalesce and we think we’ve got it, McQuarrie throws in a red herring or a new character actor. I won’t name names, but two notables appear as supporting characters and steal every scene they’re in.

Say what you will about his physical stature, but producer-actor Cruise knows how to make a movie. His Reacher will not make you cry or inspire a religious epiphany, nor does he take time to extol our warriors abroad. Nonetheless, this Jack Reacher is just what the doctor ordered: a serviceable mystery thriller with interesting characters, few gruesome torture scenes, and a nostalgic Camaro thrown in for good measure.

There has been much kvetching by the legion of Reacher fans about the casting of Cruise as Reacher – he certainly does not resemble in the least the fictional six foot blond super sleuth. If you count yourself a fan, though, you may have to make your peace with that – because I see the beginnings of a franchise here. Come on, you know you want one.

Published on December 29th, 2012 at 9:09pm.

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4 Responses to “The Retro Loner: LFM Reviews Jack Reacher

  1. Uncle Kenny says:

    “fictional six foot blond super sleuth” … well actually 6′5″, 250lbs, dark haired, ex-military police, tough guy.

    A character who is a foot taller and 75 lbs heavier than Mr. Cruise. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger size. Reacher’s size is integral to the character. It features in nearly every plot, every scene, every confrontation. The incredible self-casting of Tiny Tom makes quibbles about Crowe’s chubby Javert seem trivial by comparison. Personally, I would liked to have seen Vince Vaughn as Bilbo Baggins, but the producers wisely chose otherwise. Cruise as Reacher is the same level of ridiculous.

  2. Patrick says:

    Exactly right. I know some fans of the books who are not happy with the choice of Cruise, but having no preconceived ideas, I found him just fine, and enjoyed the movie.

  3. Patricia says:

    You’re both right! Cruise is very different physically from the original Reacher. But I had not read the books (which I guess is obvious since I got his hair color wrong) and so it’s a different experience for those who have. So I like Patrick enjoyed it.

    The one movie adaptation from the book that I could not abide was Cold Mountain. Nicole Kidman as Ada! So I get your point, Uncle.

  4. JJ says:

    Chevelle, not Camaro.

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