Jack Reacher, the hero of a series of books by Lee Child, is as much an idealized fantasy figure as any adorkable chick-lit single girl rocking her Jimmy Choos and self-deprecating quips until Mr. Perfect puts a ring on it. The testosterone version has the observational and analytic skills of Sherlock Holmes, the “who was that masked man” righting-wrongs-and-leaving-town career path of the Lone Ranger, and the single-minded devotion to righteous indignation firepower of Rambo, and he will never, ever, ever put a ring on anyone.
Reacher is ex-military, and ex-pretty much everything else. He has no strings, no relationships, no commitments — also, no id, no phone, no home, and no baggage, in both the literal and metaphorical sense. When he needs to change clothes, he picks up something at Goodwill and throws away whatever he was wearing before. When he needs a car, he has a very effective way of persuading people to let him drive theirs. Or, he just takes one. And he keeps moving.
In the books, Reacher is 6’5″ and 250 pounds and blond. But that did not stop Tom Cruise, who is none of those things, from taking the role. He more than makes up for the lack of physical stature with pure movie star charisma, a fair trade.
The movie is based on Child’s One Shot, written and directed by “The Usual Suspects” screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie. It opens with a scene of a sniper shooting random passers-by, and it is especially jarring when we see him aiming at a child. I would say that it might have made sense to delay the release of the film because it is unfortunate to have it open a week after the shooting of children and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, but it may be that after that horrible tragedy there will never be a good time for a movie that turns carnage into entertainment. Within the world of the movie, a world people willingly enter because they want to see some guilt-free fights, chases, and shoot-outs, it is reasonably effective. But if it is harder to enter that world these days, perhaps that is not a bad thing.
Law enforcement tracks down the sniper, a military vet, and the case seems open and shut. But before he is beaten into a coma by other prisoners, he scrawls “Get Jack Reacher.” Reacher can’t be contacted, but somehow he knows where he is needed, and he shows up. The sniper’s lawyer Helen (Rosamund Pike) believes her client is guilty, but wants to do her best to represent him. It turns out Reacher knew the sniper in Iraq. He has reason to believe the sniper is guilty. And, as Reacher tells us, he is not a hero.
Oh, who is he kidding, of course he is. Surprise! The case is not as open and shut as we thought. There are some dreary detours into Helen’s relationship with her father, who happens to be the DA, and to a hideous torture scene with a bad guy known as “The Zec” (Werner Herzog, better known as a director), and a five-on-one bar fight, and than, thankfully, we meet up with Robert Duvall as a ex-Marine shooting range owner. He is the only one who seems to understand what kind of movie this is, bringing a delicious zest to his scenes that almost make us forget that this is a movie in which a man is asked to bite off his own fingers and everyone seems to speak Russian.
It delivers what it intends to and what fans of the series are looking for. But I’d say it’s too soon, and maybe it’s never going to be the right time for a mindless shoot-em-up again.
Parents should know that this film includes extensive, brutal and graphic violence including a sniper who kills innocent people and executions, many fights, many guns, car chases and smashes, torture, some disturbing images, characters injured and killed, some strong language (one f-word, crude epithets), drinking, and references to drug use and drug dealing.
Family discussion: Why does Jack stay on the move? Did Emerson have a choice?
If you like this, try: the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child