This weekend Tom Cruise attempts to launch another action movie franchise with “Jack Reacher,” the first adaptation (shockingly) of the beloved, best-selling Jack Reacher novels by British author Lee Child (it was based on a book called “One Shot”).
Reacher is a former military policeman who has given up pretty much everything and travels with an ATM card, a travel-sized toothbrush and an expired passport. That’s it. In “Jack Reacher,” he’s tasked with investigating the case of a sniper who has taken out five innocent people in Pittsburgh, and uncover a larger, “Chinatown”-esque conspiracy while he’s at it.
But does Tom bring enough juice to warrant further adventures of the stoic Jack Reacher, or is this a franchise non-starter?
PRO: Tom Cruise Is Jack Reacher
Much like the uproar that surrounded Tom Cruise’s casting as the vampire Lestat in the adaptation of Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire,” die hards of the book series were up in arms when Cruise was assigned the task of embodying Jack Reacher for the big screen. In the novels, Reacher is described as something of a brute – nearly 7-feet-all, with close-cropped blonde hair, well over 200 pounds. Cruise is, well, none of those things. But yet he still manages to totally pull off Reacher. Most of this has to do with Cruise’s wily intelligence, which aligns nicely with Reacher’s, who has a nearly Sherlockian sense of deduction. Reacher also has an unwavering sense of right or wrong, something that Cruise pulls off quite nicely, too. But more importantly, Cruise feels dangerous in this role, in a way that he hasn’t for quite some time. When Cruise is being threatened by a half-dozen local yahoos at the neighborhood bar and they are the ones that seem hopelessly outnumbered, it’s a testament to both the transitional power of the character (to be able to make that leap to the big screen so effortlessly) and Cruise’s acting prowess that, even though he is only a smidge taller than Danny DeVito, he can still scare the hell out of these guys and beat them half to death. Physicality be damned, Tom Cruise really is Jack Reacher.
CON: In Light of Recent Events, The Opening Scene Will Be Tough To Watch
I saw “Jack Reacher” a few days before the tragedy in Newtown, so that didn’t enter my thought process as I watched the movie. But talking to people who had seen the movie after the tragedy, it became very clear how upsetting the opening suspense set piece was – a sniper, looking through a high-powered sight, picking off innocent people as they went about their day. Particularly unsettling is the fact that he gets a small girl in his crosshairs (she ends up not being shot but you’re under the assumption that she was killed for at least the first part of the movie). This has already caused the movie’s premiere in Pittsburgh to be postponed and for a glitzy Film Society of Lincoln Center tribute to Cruise to be pushed back to an indefinite date. It’s hard to know the right levels of sensitivity for these things, but knowing that you might be unnerved in the first few minutes will probably help you to enjoy the movie overall.
PRO: It’s The Best Superhero Origin Movie Of The Year
About halfway through “Jack Reacher,” when Jack Reacher steals a classic American muscle car, that the character begins to take on a kind of emblematic, oversized power, not unlike your classic superhero. This is, after all, a man who doesn’t have anything and who is able to rise up and right the wrongs of a profoundly unjust and corrupt system, through following the clues and beating the hell out of people. There’s something genuinely rousing about that. This is especially true since we don’t know much about where Jack Reacher came from, or who he is (in the novels it still hasn’t been totally spelled out why he left the military and essentially became a drifter). So many superhero origin tales focus on the character as a young person through adulthood. We get Reacher when he’s smack dab in middle age and have to catch up. That’s really, really cool and all too rare. That’s some “Raiders of the Lost Ark” type stuff.
CON: Werner Herzog Isn’t In It Enough
Werner Herzog plays a scowling bad guy named The Zec, who, in a Siberian prison, gnawed off all but two of his fingers in an attempt to hold off frostbite. (Yes, seriously.) Herzog’s signature grumbling is used to wonderfully menacing effect, like when he gives one of his thugs the option to either take a bullet or chew off his own fingers (just like Zec did!) “They never choose the fingers,” Herzog sighs, disappointedly. We could have used more moments of diaboligcal weirdness like that in “Jack Reacher.” Still, it was a genius casting call.
PRO: You Will Be Very Excited About The Further Adventures of Jack Reacher
“Jack Reacher” is, very nakedly, the start of a new franchise. But unlike most franchise-starters, it’s the rare franchise that you will be incredibly excited to see continue. The movie doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, exactly, but it perfectly sets up the further adventures of Jack Reacher, man of action. If you told me there was another Jack Reacher movie coming out next week, I would be preordering my ticket now.