After a murderer responsible for a multiple homicide is captured and brought in for interrogation, the talent and expertise of Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise), a vigilante drifter who exacts justice on all who deserve it regardless of their rights, is called in to investigate the seemingly open and shut case. The defendants lawyer Helen (Rosamund Pike), her district attorney father (Richard Jenkins) and the lead officer on the case, Emerson (David Oyelowo) all believe the suspect they have in custody to be their man, but Jack Reacher thinks otherwise and sets out to prove his innocence while pursuing the real culprits and attempting to uncover their dubious plans.
Written for the screen and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, "Jack Reacher" is based on the novel by Lee Child about a man who seeks his own particular brand of justice for those who are beyond the reach of the law and is also the latest starring vehicle for super star Tom Cruise. McQuarrie is a more than capable director and writer as proven by his script for the classic "The Usual Suspects" and his feature film directorial debut with the very under appreciated action film "The Way of the Gun". Tom Cruise is beyond doubt a strong leading man and has proven more than capable as an action star thanks mostly to his role as agent Ethan Hunt in the "Mission: Impossible" franchise. But somehow, both the director and actor have come together to make a woefully by the numbers investigative thriller that does little to satisfy the need of either action fans or anyone looking for a fun and interesting mystery to unravel.
After an extremely well executed and chilling opening scene depicting a sniper overlooking a public walkway as he systematically chooses his victims and expertly guns each innocent bystander down one by one, the film quickly shifts into an oh so predictable sequence of events that will feel morbidly familiar to anyone who has seen ANY mystery thriller ever created. Before we meet him properly though, there is the requisite scene where we have our hero's biography read aloud to establish how secretive and immensely talented he his (HE HAS LIKE 10 MEDALS FROM HIS MILITARY SERVICE!) and how impossible he is to locate, although despite the predictable nature of the scene it does have an admittedly appropriate gag that caps it off.
Then as we learn the particulars of this extremely uninteresting case, we see Reacher being annoyingly coy about his relationship with the accused to help demonstrate how emotionally detached he is by actually wanting the guy to go down for the crime. That is all to set up how important it is when Reacher finally reveals that the man they have locked up isn't really the shooter after all (a reveal that doesn't really matter too much since we knew from minute one that he is innocent). If Reacher doesn't believe he did it, he couldn't possibly be the shooter since Reacher has no reason to come to his defense so in turn there is no rational reason to doubt Reacher. Makes sense right?
These cloak and dagger tactics employed to cement Reacher as some sort of clever investigator come off more as contrived than insightful relegating these opening scenes as very rudimentary and holding no real surprises. You can tell that the film wasn't made to tell an interesting story and instead wants to focus squarely on our hero Jack Reacher and his mysterious ways. That is the true reason behind all the cat and mouse games with his back story and relationship to the accused in the beginning. The story seems more like an excuse to have something for Reacher to do than serving any real narrative purposes. That wouldn't be so much of a problem if the character of Jack Reacher was interesting, which he unfortunately isn't.
The character of Jack Reacher is built up to be this guy who apparently goes out of his way to make sure that anyone he knows that has committed a crime gets what is coming to them, even if it means side stepping the law to serve up some justice. Not only the film informs us of this, but all the ads and trailers do as well. We are prepped and primed for a no holds barred sort of guy, someone who doesn't mind getting dirty to do the right thing. But for all this build up and suspense about this mysterious figure, he doesn't really come off as all that special in the end. He's smart, can handle himself real well in a fight (even if going up against 5 guys at once!) and seems to have precognitive abilities when it comes to tracking down people, but never once does he display this no nonsense approach to exacting justice...at least not at first.
In all fairness and in order of full disclosure, he does finally come through during the final showdown between all the bad guys and proves to be a pretty capable guy. But the problem is when you see him engage in firefights or hand to hand combat with trained professionals, it's not Jack Reacher doing all this larger than life stuff, it is Tom Cruise. It becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate between the actor and the character he is playing since the character of Jack Reacher seems to share many of the same personality traits and mannerisms that Cruise's other past characters have had over the years.
There's a little "Minority Report" in there, a lot of "Mission: Impossible" and at least a hint of his trained assassin in "Collateral". Is it a bad thing that this character shares many of the same traits as his other films? Not necessarily, Cruise is an extremely charismatic lead actor who exudes a lot of charm but when you have a character whose name is the title of the film and has so much focus put on how unique they are, having those glaring comparisons does the character a bit of a disservice.
Regardless of that issue though, Cruise is fine in the role, he just isn't portraying a character that you haven't seen before. When the action kicks in (and it takes a while since this is also an investigative drama), McQuarrie once again shows off his skill at directing action sequences and Cruise still proves capable of handling the action with ease. McQuarrie adds a little oomph to what could easily become a tired retread of similar scenes from countless other films. We have all seen car chases to the point of absurdity by this point, but just like he did for "The Way of the Gun" he finds a way to make it feel fresh and invigorating. Supported by some fantastic sound design, the one singular car chase that does happen serves as a welcome kick to the groin after the many scenes with Reacher exploring homes and businesses looking for clues to a case that doesn't really resonate.
Another standout part of the film is its main villain played by director Werner Herzog as The Zec. This guy feels like he comes straight out of a James Bond movie with his menacing tone and evil intentions, when he forces a man to choose between biting off his fingers or taking a bullet to the head you will find yourself questioning what you would do under those same circumstances and with his calm and cool demeanor, you will likely feel like sh***ing your pants. Unfortunately he only pops up for a handful of scenes with his henchman taking up most of the screen time, but you can easily chock this one up to the less is more school of thought because if he did show up more often he likely would have become less effective with each appearance.
Is "Jack Reacher" a bad movie? No, not at all. It is well acted, well made and despite having a rather simple and painfully predictable story, it is solid and moves along at a decent enough clip. The problems arise in the form of the poorly constructed character of Jack Reacher who does nothing to separate himself from either Tom Cruise's own varied history or that of similar characters from the same genre. The investigative portions of the film (of which there are many) also feel pointless considering the ultimate reveal of the villains plot is so basic that it will likely not even register with you. Then there is the odd and completely mishandled flirtations between Reacher and Helen which feel extremely forced and out of place that luckily don't go anywhere. While there were certainly worst movies released, this is one of the most bland and uninteresting films to come out this year and one that will likely be forgotten sooner rather than later.