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March 24, 2017

Jack Reacher

by Franz Patrick

Jack Reacher (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

From several hundred yards away, six shots are fired and five people—four women and one man—drop dead. Everyone believes it is an act of random shooting by someone who has gone insane. The investigators, led by Detective Emerson (David Oyelowo), are in luck to have found a fingerprint on a quarter inside a parking meter closest to where they believe the sniper aimed for his targets. It belongs to James Barr (Joseph Sikora) who has conveniently fallen into a coma after fellow inmates almost beat him to death. Lucky for him, his request for a man named Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) reaches Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), the District Attorney’s daughter intent on making sure Barr gets a fair trial, and Reacher pays close attention to the news.

Based on the screenplay and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, “Jack Reacher” is a slick and intelligent thriller that is bold enough to break its razor sharp tension from time to time and allow humor to seep through when it is least expected. What results is a thriller with a gravitational pull; one that is capable of smirking at its audience but it never gives the impression that it is above them.

The opening scene that involves the shooting and the resulting investigation are executed with confidence. Since not one line of dialogue is uttered, just sounds of the gun and images of people running away from danger, horror and curiosity are amplified. It allows us to ask questions not only about the shooter and his motivations, but also those performing the investigation. With the latter, smooth and consistent cuts are utilized. Since no one speaks a word, we do not get the feel of who they are and their methods. We see only the pieces of evidence that must be bagged. There is an immediate red flag. In good thrillers, finding straight-cut answers are almost never that easy.

Cruise employs his usual balance of charm and cold calculation, but this does not mean his techniques are tired. On the contrary, they are appropriate for his character, someone who has had extensive military experience, a ghost in a crowd of faces. Although the plot involves a mystery, Reacher is a curiosity, too. He is quick to put things together and even quicker on his feet. There is a discussion later on involving people who appear smart because they are so specialized in a task or field. Upon closer examination, they are not really. Their response times are just faster than everyone else because, in short, their minds function mostly through familiar patterns. Having not read the novels by Lee Child, I was genuinely interested in figuring out if Reacher was that type of person.

Humor takes center stage when Reacher interacts with ordinary folks, from guys who pick a fight in a bar to an old but spirited man (Robert Duvall) who owns a shooting range. I was tickled by the fact that they tend to underestimate Reacher, whether it has to do with his physicality or ability to logically sort through misinformation, until, of course, it is too late. I probably would have, too, given that the man wears the same shirt every day.

The sexual tension between Reacher and Rodin is uncomfortable but not in an enjoyable way. The manner in which the characters inch toward one another and then having to pull away feels too silly, tonally off, something from a bad romantic comedy. I would rather have seen them have a go at each other and later apply their complete focus and attention on the investigation. Because of this, the final third is disappointing. There is confusion: is Reacher determined to rescue Rodin because he has romantic feelings for her or is his drive mostly due to the remaining guilt from having failed to save someone else?

And then there is the mastermind of it all. This person gives a powerful speech about being a survivor, but we are not given a sufficient answer as to what exactly he or she hopes to benefit from the shooting. A line or two offers an explanation but it is almost too generic for someone who has gone through all the trouble.


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