By Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette — I am a faithful reader of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, although the once-a-year publication pace since 1997 (two books in 2010) has started to cause the recent plots to fray. Child (real name James Grant) is a British author who has put his own spin on that iconographic hero of thrillers: the sullen loner assisting others.
Reacher is a former American military policeman who drifts across the United States without much in the way of luggage, identification, or even emotional baggage. He’s a hard-edged, hard-knocks kind of guy. As he moves across the country, he helps people who find themselves in perilous circumstances. The situations are clever and Reacher’s laconic manner and no-nonsense attitude make for an interesting character. Reacher is a big man, 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighing around 250 pounds. He’s smart, but if his brain fails to come up with a resolution, his brawn will settle the score.
The fact of Child’s size is how his character got his name. After losing a job writing promos, commercials, and news items for British television, Child decided to write a novel. He and his wife were in a grocery store in England, and she said to her very tall husband that if the writing didn’t pan out, he could always find work as a “reacher” in a supermarket.
The writing panned out, but the movie “Jack Reacher” is less satisfying than it should be. Loosely based on “One Shot,” which is the ninth book in the series, the filmmakers (screenwriter-director Christopher McQuarrie, and first-billed producer and star Tom Cruise) have completely missed the appeal of a character such as the taciturn Mr. Reacher. He wants to be left alone. That’s a problem when a mega-star like Cruise chooses to play some roles. He needs much of the attention, and if a novel’s narrative doesn’t satisfy, situations will be invented that will.
Except for the set-up of a former top-notch military sniper murdering five people in the American Heartland, there’s not much of the excellent “One Shot” in the movie. The sniper is apprehended and writes a note to the police that reads: “Get Jack Reacher.” Of course, a drifter like Reacher is hard to find, but once he is, the story should flow with the technical precision of a good detective novel. Reacher recognizes that six shots were fired, not five, and wonders why the sniper missed with one of the bullets. A sniper with flawless skills does not miss.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t capture Reacher’s persona: His moods, keen insights, or talents as a military cop. The movie becomes a generic, violent, action picture, and not a good one. The fictional Reacher rarely runs. He confronts. In the film, he’s on the run too much. Additionally, McQuarrie’s and Cruise’s idea of action is a reliance on car chases. That’s not what Reacher is all about. He’s also not about misogyny. There’s a scene with a girl in a bar that is crude and absolutely not in keeping with Reacher’s values.
As previously noted, our hero is a very large man. Cruise is just too small to be Jack Reacher, if, that is, he and his writer-director truly believe they are making Child’s character come to cinematic life. I think Cruise’s best performance is as Vincent the mysterious hit man in “Collateral” from 2004, one of my favorite crime films. Perhaps he needs to stop being the gung-ho hero all the time and let his freak flag fly more often as he also did quite well in “Magnolia” and “Tropic Thunder.”
The movie has some good people backing Cruise, but they are too often caught up in cliched dialogue scenes, many of which seem to have been written merely to get Reacher back into danger. Cruise is ill-served by a script that doesn’t bulk up his character with strong words. You’ll see Robert Duvall as a gun range owner, Richard Jenkins as the district attorney, Joseph Sikora as the sniper, and Rosamund Pike as the public defender and phony love interest for Jack (utterly not a Reacher trait). Miscast as a Russian mobster is famed director Werner Herzog.
Reacher is a thinking-man’s problem solver. Of course, if punched, he isn’t afraid to punch back. Because he will always oppose injustice, he can mete out punishment with the best of them. When Cruise is called upon to think, you can see the wheels spinning. Too often, he’s not good at controlling his own energy. A character such as Jack Reacher is all about control. The movie fails to grasp this fact and falls flat. It never engages the moviegoer at a level beyond annoyance and boredom.
Email Gazette movie reviewer Michael Calleri at firstname.lastname@example.org.