The film starts with a very grab-you-in-your-seat event—a sniper takes down five random people from a parking garage. He is caught, and put into a coma when the DA sets him up to be beaten by officers. Jack Reacher, a retired army cop who is also totally off the radar (no license, no apartment; he is a ghost) shows up and begins to investigate alongside the DA’s daughter, who is the sniper’s attorney.
The film is written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie (of ‘The Usual Suspects’ fame), and is based on the book ‘One Shot’ by Lee Child. You can tell it is based on a book, because many of the scenes in it—in fact, most of the scenes—seem to come straight from the page.
And you can also see how they work better on the page.
There are long sequences of monologue-like dialogue, where a character will talk for a very long time. Only once in a while does the dialogue lift up and become something other than hackneyed banter; otherwise, it is simplistic and oftentimes wooden exposition. There are only a few scenes that create genuine suspense or thrill, and those can be counted on one hand.
There are few action scenes in the film. The one that stands out is the car chase midway through the film, when Jack becomes suspected of the crime. It is a well-filmed chase, with no handheld and a clear, precise style. But there is no character or fear: we don’t really care about these characters, and so the outcome is never truly at stake. And we know the movie’s only halfway done, so we already know how it ends.
And speaking of scenes: the film’s tone shifts multiple times throughout, and quite jarringly. There is one ridiculous action scene in a bathroom, where the attackers try to beat Reacher—but they get stuck in the doorway, hit each other, and in the end knock each other down in Three Stooges fashion. No one laughed: though the goal was laughter, it was so sudden that it was uncomfortable. The film goes from thriller to romance to comedy, and just as the audience begins to get a feel for the current tone, the movie jumps again.
The acting is also of iffy quality. After reading a description of the book’s Jack Reacher, and watching Tom Cruise’s rendition, I believe that while he does his best he was miscast. In the film, he seems like an actor: a man of short stature and all right build who has more bark than bite (though his bite is still ferocious). And Tom Cruise can play gruff and rough, but this is a step above his maximum.
The other actors all work for a paycheck. Robert Duvall seems random—even his character seems to pop out of the blue. And Rosamund Pike and Richard Jenkins—two very respectable actors—seem flat and underused (even though Pike is the second lead).
It is also obvious that this film is supposed to be the first in a franchise. It does end, but with a lot of questions left up in the air (the least of which is the sexual tension felt constantly between Cruise and Pike, which became annoying after a while resulting in audience members screaming, ‘Just kiss already!’). The ending also grated on my nerves, with its cookie-cutter sort of dialogue. With a rising sun in the background, Cruise, Pike and Duvall all stand over the scene of the climax and whip golly-gee-whizz quality dialogue back and forth in a ‘gee, aren’t we great!’ sort of fashion.
In the end, ‘Jack Reacher’ is a mediocore film that happened to get elevated to a wanna-be blockbuster status by its star. While the technicality of the film is above-par, everything else has sunk below the bar, with a meh story, jarring shifts in tone, and the paycheck being the actors’ sole motivations.