A sniper executes six random people in cold blood, then issues the demand: Get me Jack Reacher. Is the case as cut and dried as it seems, or can Reacher (Cruise) get to the truth before the truth gets to him?
And so to one of life’s perennial questions, one over which many have moaned and many more have fretted. Does, as Godzilla’s tagline so memorably claimed, size really matter? Thankfully for all of us, Tom Cruise’s take on Lee Child’s Jack Reacher via Chris McQuarrie seems to settle the argument once and for all in the negative.
The inevitable Internet Armageddon that greeted the news of Cruise’s casting as Child’s 6’ 5” military cop/lone wolf/fanny magnet must have been viewed by the studio as the very definition of a mixed blessing. The fans may have been moaning but, in a world where the word ‘meh’ appears to now qualify as considered critique, at least the fuckers cared.
As it happens, Cruise and McQuarrie comfortably prove their thesis; that the spirit of Reacher lies not in his height but in his character. Our introduction to their hero is brilliantly witty, playing up many of the novels’ erotic extravagances with a sequence that refuses to show Reacher’s face. Instead, we open on the back of his head, viewing him watching the news in bed while an anonymous broad — clearly satisfied — pulls up her drawers next to him, before following the back of his head down the street, his physical impressiveness reflected in the flirting faces of every woman he passes.
Later, with the typical economy of a screenwriter as smart as the man behind The Usual Suspects, we cut to authorities Richard Jenkins and David Oyelowo sitting in an office questioning how the hell they can track down a man who is plain off the grid. They are, they conclude, stuffed. There’s a beat. Then a secretary enters the room. “I have a Jack Reacher here for you,” she says. Their reaction shot is priceless.
Though the movie is peppered with these lovely light touches — a grandstanding car chase, for instance, ends with a glorious grace note — that’s not to say that McQuarrie and Cruise have underestimated the pull Reacher — now on book 17, let’s not forget — has on his audience. This is pure wish fulfilment, a resolutely hard-edged thriller, a down and dirty Bond that supercedes the expectations of a 12A rating. The violence here is full-force. Thumbs disappear into eye sockets, baseball bats hit home with shocking sound effects and, in a scene already making a late run for best of the year, we first meet Reacher’s nemesis, The Zec (played with sinister raised eyebrow by the inspired casting of Werner Herzog), down a dark alley in which he does something so dark you will not look at your fingers in the same way ever again.
Ardent Reacher fans will note slight changes to the story — as per its original title, this is based on adventure One Shot — but they are largely smart omissions, jettisoning the odd supporting character in favour of sheer momentum. The screenplay’s misstep is to cut down much of The Zec’s backstory from the novel, the personal history that made him such a threat sadly missing and diminishing his on-screen menace. But, while fans won’t find any major surprises in terms of story, newcomers will be treated to a plot that, from a brutal and bravura opening sequence, consistently wrong-foots its audience all the way through to a satisfying climax.
The cast deliver the twists with confidence and are uniformly top drawer — not least the legendary Robert Duvall and newcomer Jai Courtney, who more than justifies his casting as McClane Jr. in the upcoming A Good Day To Die Hard with a knockout turn as a chief henchman. Cruise, meanwhile, does enough to silence the naysayers prepared to be open to interpretation (and he could actually grow a foot and the others still wouldn’t be convinced, so what’s the point in worrying?)
Ultimately, though, the standout performance here comes from McQuarrie, who follows up his woefully under-appreciated The Way Of The Gun with a control and restraint that gives great tribute to the touchpoint movies he spends much of this running time referencing. Where action-cinema has been bogged down recently in fast cuts and incoherent fight sequences, here is a movie that has Dirty Harry in its sights and ’70s cinema pumping through its veins. From the harsh (the horrific opening sniper attack) to the humorous (Reacher in a three-way fight that boasts some Stooge-level slapstick), McQuarrie marshals his pack with a cocky panache that would be admirable from a seasoned pro, let alone a screenwriter going sophomore.
Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise deliver on their promise, with a witty, violent take on Reacher that makes up for its lack of height with an abundance of smarts and thrills.