I apologize in advance if these first paragraphs seem “preachy.” But I feel strong enough about what I’m going to write that I must include it. Sometimes things in life tragically coincide with things in Hollywood, with Hollywood always getting the blame for exploiting a tragedy. On July 22, 1991, the world first learned of the horrible crimes committed by Jeffrey Dahmer. Less than two weeks later the movie “Body Parts” opened. Even though the film had nothing to do with Dahmer just the title put Hollywood in a bad light. On June 17, 1994 O.J. Simpson led police on a slow-speed chase prior to being arrested on suspicion of murdering his wife. At the same time, “The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult,” a film in which Simpson co-starred, was opening in discount houses. Again, an outcry that a studio was trying to capitalize on a tragedy. If you have any knowledge of film history you know that both the original “Spider-man” and the comedy “Zoolander” were edited to remove images of the World Trade Center just after September 11, 2001. Even this past summer’s “Dark Knight Rises” was put in a negative light after a late night screening was interrupted by a man with a gun.
Which brings us to “Jack Reacher.” This past week we were all horrified when 26 people, including 20 children, were senselessly killed at their elementary school. The film deals with an investigator looking into the case of a sniper that kills five people. As the film begins we see the sniper looking through his scope, pausing momentarily on a young woman holding hands with a child and then the child. The audience at the screening I attended gave a collected gasp. “We don’t need this,” one of my fellow critics said to me. The sniper takes his crosshairs off of the child to continue his search for his victims. But that moment brought the audience back into reality, ironically in the one place people go to escape it. Again, it’s just a movie but I felt you deserved a heads up.
And now on with the review:
In the city of Pittsburgh a white van slowly makes its way into a parking garage overlooking the riverfront. A man gets out, rifle in hand, and begins to search across the river for a target. Five shots later he is gone. Armed with evidence found at the scene the police close in on the home of James Barr (Joseph Sikora). When he is interrogated he refuses to talk, instead scribbling on a yellow legal pad “GET JACK REACHER.”
A tightly woven thriller with an undertone of comedy, “Jack Reacher” is a smart mystery with enough twists and turns that you may get dizzy following them. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who won an Oscar for his script for “The Usual Suspects,” the film’s premise is that things are not always what they seem. Catching word of the crime, Reacher (Cruise) shows up at police headquarters and is introduced to Barr’s attorney, Helen Rodin (Pike). Helen is hoping to keep Barr from being sentenced to death if convicted and needs help because when the district attorney (Jenkins) goes after the death penalty he seems to always get it. Oh, and he’s also Helen’s father. Helen convinces Jack to help her and soon we meet an assortment of goons and idiots, all working for a mysterious man known as The Zec (Werner Herzog). As Jack solves one puzzle he finds himself thrust in the middle of another, all the time trying to convince himself that Barr really is guilty. The stakes keep getting bigger and bigger as both Jack and Helen begin to question the loyalty of those around them.
Tom Cruise turned 50 this year and it’s almost hard to imagine that he’s been a star for almost 30 of those years. Cruise is one of those rare actors that really can play ANYTHING. Be it a high school boy looking for some weekend fun, an ace pilot in the U.S. Navy or a paralyzed Vietnam War veteran, he has always found a way to inhabit his characters. When he’s on screen you don’t see TOM CRUISE, you see Joel Goodsen, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and Ron Kovic. He does the same thing here, inhabiting Jack Reacher and making him three dimensional. He is assisted by a fine supporting cast that includes, besides Pike, Jenkins and Herzog, David Owelolo, Jai Courtney and Cruise’s old buddy, the great Robert Duvall who, at age 81, continues to amaze.
This is McQuarrie’s second directorial effort and his first in more than a decade. He does manage to keep the story on track, even finding time for a pretty intense street race between some serious muscle and Reacher. And I’m sure Tom Cruise would like me to tell you that he’s up to date when it comes to dealing with the bad guys hand to hand.