Tom Cruise playing a mysterious professional who has an unquenchable thirst for justice but goes about executing it in an unconventional way? Sound like a stretch? A challenging, new direction for a perennial megastar? Jack Reacher looking like an exciting departure? No? Well, that’s because it isn’t.
The trailer above is a better construct than the film itself in just about every way.
In the trailer, Cruise’s Jack Reacher is introduced as a mysterious ex-army investigator who has dropped off the map and can’t be found, until he emerges to help solve a shooting in which a man seems to have been framed. In the trailer he’s unconventional, ruthless, intriguing. In the film, he’s… well, he’s still unconventional and has spells of ruthlessness, but the intrigue is lost about half-way through. Cruise portrays him convincingly enough for you to never think that in the books he’s described physically as something closer to Dwayne Johnson than Cruise. But there’s nothing that adds to the character that doesn’t appear in the 2 minutes above. Absolutely zilch.
Instead, you’ll get two hours of muddling up his motives and intentions, diminishing his menace and treading every single “rogue-loner” cliché possible while simultaneously undermining the possibly strong force Reacher could be.
Plotwise, the first 45 seconds of the trailer give away the entire storyline. In two hours, the film does nothing to elaborate on the plot points that are so effectively exposed in the trailer, thereby turning an exciting prospect into a plodding procedural inevitability. It reveals the answer to the whodunnit-question in the opening scene, and the rest is just a dragged-out journey to a predictable and underwhelming conclusion.
The idea of seeing Werner Herzog as a cinematic villain is pure brilliance. On paper. And in the trailer, where he exudes menace. In the film itself, his character is so poorly written that you’re left wondering why Herzog’s letter to his cleaning lady wasn’t used as a base for the villain’s personality, as that suggests a considerably more poignant and menacing character than the merely half-interesting one he’s given to work with here.
In the trailer, Rosamund Pike‘s lawyer Helen isn’t given a single line. Which is just as good, because her dialogue scenes are nauseatingly dreadful. And Jai Courtney’s Charlie is a masterclass in writing stereotypical brutes, saved only by flashes of Courtney’s natural charm, while his acting talents can be chalked up as “a work in progress”. The only character more interesting in the film than the trailer is Robert Duvall’s gun-range owner Cash.
Almost none of this, apart from some botched line deliveries by Pike and Courtney, is the actors’ fault. Apparently, Lee Child‘s source novel, if Christopher McQuarrie‘s adaptation is anything to go by, is little more than a collection of the most generic conversations and plot twists of the last 25 years. And McQuarrie’s direction does little to remedy the problem, as most of the visuals, set-ups and performances fall victim to the same generic mediocrity.
The film’s only saving grace are a couple of action scenes in the first and second act. The first contains a couple of cleverly executed fist-fights where Reacher’s character traits are exposed along with his fighting skills. The second is a car-chase through the city. Instead of a kinetic, Bourne-type dash, this chase is better described as burly. The cars’ speed probably never exceed 50 mph, the engine in Reacher’s Chevelle cuts out at a crucial moment and takes 20 seconds to start up again, all swings and turns are fantastically heavy and labored and Reacher has to force the car around barricades and obstacles, resulting in a surprisingly weighty and exciting sequence. However, these glimpses of visual excitement are only a temporary veil over a broken story and predictable twists.
And what’s the deal with the music in the opening 20 minutes? It’s like composer Joe Kraemer is trying to force the film to be a mid-90’s action thriller when the story is more fitting to be a modern, Stieg Larson-type whodunnit mystery -a prospect ruined in the opening scene, like stated before. After the first act, the music reverts to generic background noise, thankfully absent altogether in the effective car chase scene.
Final Verdict: For a good Tom Cruise actioner with great performances, see Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. For a grounded, exciting and cool film about a rogue loner avenging a crime and unearthing a conspiracy in between driving cool, American cars, see Dwayne Johnson’s Faster.