It is hard to argue that Jack Reacher should be given a second chance. This is not because the film doesn’t deserve greater recognition and a wider audience, which it most definitely does; instead, the difficulty arises because Jack Reacher was never given a proper first chance. The long-awaited adaptation was first written off long before the cameras were in place, leading to its release with a whimper where there should have been a bang.
The Jack Reacher novels are global bestsellers, with a score of books selling over 100 million copies and worldwide sales topping $1billion, and it is unsurprising that this series has generated a significant fanbase. The Jack Reacher of their collective imagination is set out at the start of each book: he is 6’5″ tall, with a large build, dirty-blond hair and ice-blue eyes. Imagine their shock, therefore, when the actor chosen to be Jack Reacher in the film was 5’7”, with a trim physique, dark brown hair and green eyes. The crowd went wild, but not in a good way.
Frankly, they were wrong. The actor in question is of course Tom Cruise. Not only can you never tell that Cruise is 10 inches shorter than his fictional character, thanks to those age-old tricks of perspective, but to focus on a physical form rather than characteristics and behaviours is clearly shallow-minded. As Reacher, Cruise is filled with control, confidence and charisma, portraying a fierceness of brain and brawn which undeniably embodies the character far more than the size of his jacket – watching him take on a gang with a brutal yet beautifully-choreographed efficiency will take away anybody’s doubts. Cruise clearly relishes the role, taking the best bits of many of his most recognisable characters to create something new, exciting, and Reacher-y.
The film starts with a quick-fire thrilling setup: a sniper plans, prepares and executes a mass killing in the heart of America, the suspect is rounded up, and their only statement is that the police need to get Jack Reacher. All this in a handful of minutes of screentime. The sequence sees homemade bullets being crafted with precision; this is much like the filmmaking on display. Every shot feels deliberate yet dynamic, with none of the stiltedness that can be born of clearly rehearsed and choreographed filmmaking.
This credits scene also includes the first of many clever camera tricks. Here the viewer is given premium seating to be the sniper, with a double focus within and without the magnified scope – a scary and disturbing effect. Later, in a related but entirely different long-range shooting scene, the camera rolls to follow Reacher as he settles into the perfect prone position, this time looking down the rifle and seeing into the character’s eye. The motion of the camera throughout the film demonstrates director Christopher McQuarrie and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel’s thorough understanding of when to be still, when to move, and how to move to make the best shot, one which keeps things interesting and engaging for the viewer.
As muscle-car engines roar through dark streets, the chase is on. Not your Fast and Furious fare, or some glamorous interpretation of a chase – this is realistic, with the cars bumping and stalling, panels smashing as the machinery is put through its paces. You’re drawn in and immersed in this chase with sight and sound, the camera bouncing alongside, above, behind, inside, as the police chase Reacher, and Reacher chases the guy the police should be chasing. The ending to the chase is as far from Hollywood’s ordinary as possible, with our hero calmly walking away and hiding in plain sight with a shrug and a cheeky smile.
This is a major source of the joy of Jack Reacher. Other hands may have taken the source material and stuffed it into the standard action mould, but the melding of McQuarrie (on double duty as screenwriter) and Child’s writing expertise fills it with snappy, crackling dialogue, weapons-grade one-liners and great comic timing. Child himself appears for an author cameo, popping up as Cruise reels off his astute observational writing. Language is important here, for the film as well as for the plot – it is as much a fount of enjoyment for the viewer as it is an important facet of Reacher’s detective skills.
Adapted from Reacher novel One Shot, the film’s heart is a cleverly layered conspiracy, wrapped around Reacher’s efforts to prove a man innocent. The viewer is in on it from the start, knowing that the police got the wrong guy but not how or why, and in being shown the first mystery you are drawn into the web. Reacher sets out to prove innocence through a highly unusual deconstruction and reconstruction of events, going so far as to say that the man can’t have committed the crimes he was accused of since he would have done a much better job of it if he had. In doing so, Reacher proves his morals; he is able to look beyond the perfect opportunity to put an undeniably bad man down in order to do what is right. Also on trial is America’s wasteful society; the film handles a solid cross-examination of excessive consumerism and corruption, whether this is in the construction firm building unnecessary projects or comparisons with Reacher’s own buy-and-bin lifestyle.
Of course, Reacher is not the only character. One Shot has a strong cast, taking in Rosamund Pike on pre-Gone Girl top form as a pacifist-idealist defence counsellor, Jai Courtney as Reacher’s physical nemesis and super-efficient henchman, and a strong performance from David Oyelowo as the detective determined to take Reacher down. On another level entirely is the ever-valued Robert Duvall, acting as the stereotypically cranky veteran-turned-firing range owner and unlikely ally for Jack Reacher. Then there’s the big bad, for which casting director Mindy Marin deserves every award going: Werner Herzog. Herzog goes for the jugular, taking villainy to a chilling degree and retaining his character’s enigma throughout his regrettably short screentime.
But Reacher is primarily a loner. Joe Kraemer’s score uses solo instruments above and distinct from the accompaniment, the lone bugle symbolic of the lone wolf. Even with a great cast, the film is undeniably Reacher’s, and Tom Cruise is undeniably Reacher. If Ethan Hunt is the Tom Cruise hero America needs, Jack Reacher is the one it actually deserves. Unrelenting, not afraid to get his hands bloody, and determined to right wrongs, Jack Reacher is a new American hero and Jack Reacher is the film which shows this, right down to the antiheroic – but necessary – ending.