Uncommonly sharp writing, a twisty puzzle and a darkly wry sense of humor elevate “Jack Reacher” well above the level most big-screen police procedurals attain.
And so what if Tom Cruise needs an elevator to reach the stature of the book version of Jack Reacher, who is described as a 6-foot-5-inch giant with blond hair and icy blue eyes in Lee Child's novels. The tabloid target, who produced the movie (so he gets quite a bit a say about who plays what character), definitively reaffirms his status as a top-notch movie star in this probable franchise starter.
Cruise, 50, keeps his trademark megawatt smile largely under wraps as the title character, an Army brat who became a military cop but had enough authority issues to opt out of service, albeit after his share of serving in war zones. But he didn't enter the civilian world in the usual fashion: Reacher doesn't carry a driver's license or any kind of ID, sticks to riding the bus instead of owning a car, doesn't have a house, cell phone or credit card, shops only at thrift stores and drifts around the country, occasionally tapping his military pension. You don't find Jack Reacher, and if he finds you, you might not wish he had because he only cares about what's right, not what's legal.
Reacher turns up in Pittsburgh after ex-Army sniper James Barr (Joseph Sikora) is accused of randomly assassinating five innocent people along the Riverwalk outside PNC Park. In light of the recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., the tense scenes of the shootings are tough to watch, but the poor timing is hardly the movie's fault.
Detective Emerson (David Oyelowo) seems to have built an airtight case against Barr, and District Attorney Rodin (personal favorite Richard Jenkins) looks to have another slam dunk on his hands. But writer-director Christopher McQuarrie reveals early on that a different shooter committed the murders, and the puzzle becomes who is the mystery man (Jai Courtney), why did he do it and how and why did he so skillfully frame Barr.
For his part, Barr doesn't defend himself, only telling the district attorney, cops and his defense attorney, Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), who happens to be the D.A.'s daughter, to get Jack Reacher before he winds up in a coma. After seeing Barr on the news, Reacher shows up with uncannily good timing.
The clever investigator suspects his fellow ex-soldier is guilty, until he begins to methodically pick apart the evidence, which doesn't exactly thrill the cops or the real killer.
Robert Duvall shows off his usual good-ol'-boy charm as an ex-Marine gun range owner who aids Reacher, Werner Herzog gets to deliver some chilling lines as a shadowy baddie, and Canadian actress Alexia Fast makes an impression as a dim but sweet young thing who sets up some of Reacher's most sardonically smart dialogue.
McQuarrie, who won an Oscar for penning the 1995 puzzler “The Usual Suspects” and who hasn't directed since the little-seen 2000 crime drama “The Way of the Gun,” shows off his considerable writing chops with his adaptation of Child's “One Shot,” the ninth of his 17 Jack Reacher novels. (Child makes a cameo as a police desk sergeant.)
As a director, McQuarrie also makes some great, old-school decisions in crafting “Jack Reacher.” The film is blessedly free of CGI, the fight scenes are rendered without a lot of flashy jump cuts, the car chase is more about brains than brawny crashes, and the overall pace hearkens to the action thrillers of the 1970s.
Plus, he lets his movie star be the star of the show. Cruise plays Reacher with a steely stoicism that sort of compels you to watch him just to see what he'll do next. After his 130-minute introduction zipped by so quickly, I wouldn't mind seeing Cruise and McQuarrie team up for another Jack Reacher mystery.
— Brandy McDonnell
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog, Robert Duvall. (Violence, language and some drug material)