When it came to picking a movie for my letter “J” spot I was at a bit of a loss – I was going to use it for Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, but I had a better Spielberg movie planned for a little further down the alphabet. But then I took a look over the list I planned out and I realized a rather egregious error I had made: None of my action movies were Tom Cruise action movies. Admittedly, Jack Reacher certainly isn’t writer-director Christopher McQuarrie’s best work (try watching the secret gem The Way of the Gun or the snappy new blockbuster Edge of Tomorrow), but it is interesting, easy enough to follow, filled with first-class action scenes, and, of course, it has Tom Cruise. There are lots of individuals in Hollywood who have made important contributions to the modern action genre, but there is no actor out there, with the exception of perhaps Schwarzenegger, who has played a bigger role in bringing some of the greatest action movies of contemporary Hollywood to fruition.
Based on the Lee Child novel One Shot, Jack Reacher begins with a mysterious sniper who guns down five people and framing an Army veteran for the atrocities. Clinging to his fifth amendment right, the believed perp says nothing to the cops or lawyers except for righting one thing on a legal pad: Get Jack Reacher. And so the eponymous anti-hero, a former Army investigator, arrives on cue to find justice for the cold-blooded killer. But soon enough Reacher starts to realize that the cut-and-dry case is not all that it seems. Fans of the novel know that on paper Reacher is a tall, blonde, brute of a man and the book snobs are no doubt disappointed in the casting choice. Nevertheless, one can’t help but admit how much Cruise accomplishes in the role. Despite his exposure and public familiarity, he still manages to bring mysteriousness through, not to mention a thrilling and almost alluring undercurrent of dark menace as well. Having proven his acting ability with wonderful performances in Jerry Maguire and Born on the Fourth of July, its often frustrating to see Cruise spend his days making, almost solely, action movies…but then you watch them and you realize two things: one, there are few such well-tempered talents who do the action “thing” so well, and two, he has so much fun making them that its no wonder he won’t stop making them no matter how bad or, in the case of Jack Reacher, mediocre they are.
Jack Reacher isn’t the reinvention of the wheel but its snappy and, except for the moments when the movie takes itself way too seriously, really cool. McQuarrie has a lot of fun with the one-liners that give Cruise some room to flex his comedic muscle though in this case its more snarky and outlandish rather than silly (“I mean to beat you to death and drink your blood from a boot” is circumstantially hilarious). But the best thing about this movie is still the rock-‘em-sock-‘em bravura of its car chases, bar fights, and shoot outs – in fact, if the action wasn’t as good as it is then I probably would have written about the excitements of being chased by snarling dinosaurs despite the risk of redundancy. But it is that good, especially when its Cruise’s fists against small gangs of stock bad guys. The scene, for instance, where Reacher fends off five goons at once is pure escapism. I won’t spoil the fun if you haven’t had a chance to see it, but I can say that it, and scenes like it, are exactly what action movies should be: the perfect mix of brutal, frivolous and amusing.