Along the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh, a sniper opens fire one lazy afternoon, gunning down and murdering five random, innocent people. The police follow the evidence and within 16 hours have a suspect in custody, James Barr (Joseph Sikora), a former Army sniper. Rather than sign a confession, he requests the help of one Jack Reacher. The district attorney and police look into the name finding out that Reacher is a former military policeman who upon being mustered out has become a drifter. Why then would Barr want his help? Barr's defense lawyer, Helen (Rosamund Pike), thinks nothing of it until Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) himself shows up in her office unannounced and offers to help...in a way. Reacher knows something about Barr's past, but he says he'll help just the same. It seems like an open and shut case, but it doesn't add up for the former MP turned drifter. Was the sniper's shootings really random, or was there a purpose?
From director Christopher McQuarrie (who also wrote the script), 'Reacher' is based off Child's novel One Shot from 2005. I write this review having watched this movie without giving the Reacher novels a shot so be forewarned. This is a movie review, not a book to film adaptation review. Moral of the story? I liked the movie, and it definitely got better once everything is laid out. There are some early struggles with a lack of tone, from goofy to dumb to really dark. I just couldn't get going early on, but things pick up about the 45-minute mark. From there on in, it manages to find a good mix of drama and action with a few necessary laughs here and there. Once casting was announced, Reacher fans were almost unanimously against the casting of Cruise, mostly because the novel Reacher is 6-foot-5 and about 230 pounds of pure muscle. Cruise? Well, he's in freakish shape, but he ain't that big.
You know what? It doesn't matter. Cruise is a movie star who can act, and physical discrepancies aside, he owns the part. As McQuarrie pointed out in an interview, it isn't about the height or the physical build. It's all about the attitude, that confidence in the character, and that's where Cruise succeeds. That's what counts when we're talking about becoming the character. Jack Reacher is a drifter, seemingly always on the move. He has no real possessions, wearing the clothes on his back, and goes where he's needed. In this case, it's helping someone he worked with in the past (in a way), trying to find out exactly what's going on. Mostly though, his sense of justice appealed to me. He is interested in the law to a point, but mostly he's going to deliver his own brand of vigilante justice. Warrants? Evidence? Nah, let's just get some answers.
More than just his acting, Cruise is really memorable here because he handles most -- if not all -- of his own stunts, something he's become associated with over the years. It adds a touch of authenticity, and more importantly for me, a huge dose of credibility. It's jarring when you see stunt doubles in any type of action scenes, but Cruise? He's a man of ACTION!!! A fight scene early with five thugs dispatched to take him out on a poorly lit street is very cool, Cruise's Reacher swinging and punching and kicking like nobody's business and not surprisingly....winning in grand fashion. A very cool car chase late also has Cruise doing all of his own stunts. The camera is in the shotgun seat with him in a chase reminiscent of some classic 1960s/1970s chase sequences.
The rest of the cast is okay -- nothing spectacular -- in parts that are meant to aid Reacher in his not so normal (read = legal) investigation. Rosamund Pike's Helen seems too dumb for her own good at times, odd considering what a good lawyer she's supposed to be. Unfortunately, the part just devolves into a pretty lawyer wearing heels, short skirts and low(ish) cut shirts. As for the "system," there's Richard Jenkins as the District Attorney Rodin (also Helen's Dad) and David Oyelowo as Emerson, the police officer leading the investigation. Don't want to give too much away in terms of villains, but director Werner Herzog squints as the main baddie, the Zec, with Jai Courtney as his main henchman, a good creepy combo. Also worth mentioning is the always reliable, always fun Robert Duvall in a small but key part as a firing range owner while Alexia Fast is a young woman caught up in something bigger than she thought.
There is something just odd about the movie in general, a lot of that coming from a combination of darkness, dark humor and some slow-going early on. It really finds a groove in the second half, Cruise doing a fine job with the titular character, especially as we see more of him and his unique, brutal means of administering justice. I don't know if the Reacher series will continue, but it's a good flick regardless of where it goes from here on out.
Jack Reacher (2012): ***/****