Movie Review: Jack Reacher

By Matthew Huntley

January 2, 2013

Why am I on a pay phone?

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Jack Reacher is a police procedural, mystery thriller and action picture all rolled into one serviceable movie. It doesn’t go above and beyond any of its multiple genres, but as entertainment, it gets the job done. That’s not a very glowing compliment, I know, but sometimes all it takes is an ordinary, streamlined movie like this to zone us out and take us away, especially if that’s all we’re looking for. Will I care about this movie next week? Will I even remember it? Probably not, but for the two hours I spent watching it, I was caught up in its story, I enjoyed the company of its characters and I got a moderate thrill out of its action. Jack Reacher is what you might call solid but forgettable filmmaking.

The movie opens with a tense first scene as a faceless man makes homemade bullets, a process that has become all too methodical for him. It then cuts to a sniper parking a white van in a Pittsburgh parking garage overlooking the Allegheny River and PNC Park. The sniper breathes heavily and the camera takes the point of view of his rifle’s viewfinder before he suddenly starts firing shots at seemingly random citizens, killing five in all - one man and four women.

Detective Emerson (David Oyelowo) and the Pittsburgh police department are quick to respond and find what Emerson describes as a “gold mine” of a crime scene. He quickly connects the blatant dots until they have their shooter, a socially awkward man named James Barr (Joseph Sikora), whom we saw making the bullets at the beginning. When Barr is interrogated by Emerson and District Attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins), the only response Barr gives is writing “Get Jack Reacher” on a piece of paper. Later, during his transportation to a holding prison, Barr is beaten to a pulp by the other inmates and falls into a coma.


At the hospital, in walks the seemingly-impossible-to-find Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise), a former army police officer and current drifter. He’s a bit of a smart aleck and smooth talker who only ever seems to wear black jeans, a flannel shirt and a brown leather jacket. After a previous incident between Reacher and Barr in Iraq, Reacher has returned to fulfill a promise and winds up getting involved in the case, which is not as black and white as Emerson or the D.A. initially thought. In fact, the D.A.’s daughter, Helen (Rosamund Pike), is a dedicated attorney who wants to ensure Barr receives a fair trial and the book isn’t necessarily tossed at him just because the case appears to be open and shut. She hires Reacher to be her personal investigator and he soon finds a web of conspiracy linked to the sharpshooter’s murders, which turn out to be not so random after all.

Even though the intricate plot is relayed to us bit by bit so we don’t miss anything, part of the fun of Jack Reacher is watching Reacher and Helen decipher it. I imagine the film plays much like the book on which it is based, One Shot, by Lee Child, reads. It’s confident but mostly straightforward and we’ve seen and read better, deeper mystery thrillers before. That’s not to say this one is without merit, especially with Cruise and Pike, who are both commanding in their roles, driving the plot. They have a slick chemistry that’s just on the brink of sensual and it’s their charisma and energy that keeps our attention and ultimately makes us care about the outcome.

Of course, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie isn’t shy about tossing in standard Hollywood elements, including generic fight scenes, a car chase through downtown Pittsburgh, a red herring, and the inevitable kidnapping-shootout climax. These are all functional and competent but not unlike what we’ve seen before. McQuarrie directs them with enough charge so they’re not boring, but they’re hardly surprising. Still, he, Cruise and Pike, and a late appearance by Robert Duvall, keep the movie afloat. In the end, Jack Reacher won’t change anybody’s life and it’s not essential viewing, but it’s entertaining.



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