Five people dead from a sniper’s fire, and the likely guilty suspect is believed to be a disgruntled former Iraq war army veteran. Tom Cruise is the title character, a super-elusive former military investigator who has a history and grudge against the suspect. And yet he agrees to help out Courtney’s Defense attorney (Rosamund Pike), who is the estranged daughter of the District Attorney (Richard Jenkins). And soon, the duo uncover a whole lot of stuff that might just get Reacher to put his grudges aside and come around to Pike’s way of thinking: The suspect may in fact be innocent. The audience, meanwhile, already knows that the suspect is a patsy set-up by criminal mastermind ‘The Zec’ (German director Werner Herzog, playing a Russian), whose personal assassin (Jai Courtney) did the deed. David Oyelowo plays the cop who arrested the prime suspect, and Robert Duvall turns up briefly as a gun shop/shooting range owner who provides critical info. Alexia Fast plays a rather trashy girl named Sandy, whose boyfriend tries to rough Reacher up.
One of my pet peeves is when a trailer gives you all the best bits or the best jokes in a film. However, you also need to be wary of a trailer that tells you next to nothing about a film beyond the title and star. Case in point is this 2012 film that plays like a hybrid of John Grisham and Tom Clancy, only completely ineffectual, more like lesser Clancy or Grisham. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie (writer of “The Usual Suspects” and “Valkyrie”) and based on a Lee Child novel, it’s a film where the characters really could have saved themselves and the audience a whole lot of time by reading Ebert’s Little Movie Glossary, because this film’s mystery can easily be solved by Ebert’s Law of Economy of Characters (or whatever name he later changed it to). That’ll narrow it down to two possible bad guys at the very least.
McQuarrie shows quite an interesting visual style early on, and it begins in a rather cold-blooded, 70s spy/thriller kinda way, something like “Day of the Jackal” (apparently a source of inspiration for the author, I’ve heard) or “The Mechanic”. Unfortunately, from Tom Cruise’s cheesy first scene onwards, it’s flat and dull. In addition to having the campest name I think I’ve ever heard, I was surprised that no one in this film claimed that Jack Reacher was the ‘best of the best of the rest of what’s left’. The film might be something of a mixture between Grisham and Clancy thriller, but the way the character of Reacher is presented, it’s as if Steven E. de Souza (“Commando”, “Die Hard”) or Shane Black (“Lethal Weapon”, “The Last Boy Scout”) were brought on board at the last minute for some re-writes. Reacher is totally an 80s action movie relic, with far too cheesy humour. It’s clunkily done and never believable. Sure, the bar fight is amusing, but it’s really stupid at the same time (and do bars still play House of Pain?), because it’s meant to have been a set-up but the way it plays out, one finds that hard to believe. Really bad writing. It’s just a really poor idea to have the henchman come across as incompetent knuckleheads- no credibility or threat, and it leads to a dull film. Jack Reacher is borderline Steven Seagal, and at least Steven Seagal eventually got fat and old. Reacher is just Superman with a slightly questionable name, and whilst Cruise looks great for 50, I still found him very silly in action. This is the first time since “Vanilla Sky” that I’ve actually found Tom Cruise really boring and charmless in a film. What did he see in this material? He’s certainly not well-cast in a role that really cries out for a Jason Statham, and even then it’d still be cheesy as hell.
Rosamund Pike, meanwhile...where do I start? People have been commenting for years now that she seems to have this (possibly Botox-induced) constant look of arched eyebrow surprise on her face. Well, if you ask me, she spends the entire film here in total awestruck of being opposite Tom Cruise, to the point where it seems like she’s incredibly horny. I’m not kidding, I swear her panties dropped (out of frame) at one point. How did the director not see this? I felt really embarrassed for her, but to be honest, she’s a professional and should know better than to alert everybody to the fact that she seriously wants to fornicate Tom Cruise violently and passionately. At one point I think I even heard her have an orgasm listening to Cruise talk. An actual orgasm, not a figurative one. It may be that these are hints towards a romance between the two characters that was ultimately left on the cutting room floor, but even so, surely someone would’ve looked back over this film and realised there was something really, really wrong going on here. Rosamund does have awfully lovely Pikes, though I must say.
Robert Duvall turns up for a complete waste of his time and talent, and Richard Jenkins is here too, but let’s face it, he’s like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”- he’s always been here. He gives the same damn performance he always does, and is perfectly fine. The two performances that do actually stand out are by Alexia Fast and rather surprisingly, famed director Werner Herzog. I’d never heard of Fast before, but she’s quite impressive opposite some pretty big names. Herzog, meanwhile steals the entire film coming across like Armin Mueller-Stahl but positively chilling and dead-eyed. A film about his character would’ve been so much better than what is really just another film about a disgruntled and unstable American soldier. Yawn.
With a clichéd and transparent plot that wouldn’t cut the mustard on “NCIS”, silly machismo, a boring hero, and a lead actress who can’t contain her fan girl crush, there’s not much to see here. Even fans of Grisham or Clancy thrillers would have a hard time staying awake during this one, though McQuarrie does show some promise as a visual stylist.