Release Date: 26th December 2012
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Jai Courtney, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog
In what could be a Hollywood actor’s least daring reinvention yet, Tom Cruise sheds his affable leading man shtick that has graced the Mission Impossible series for nearly 20 years, in favour of a moody, chip-on-shoulder leading man shtick for this adaptation of Lee Child’s One Shot — the ninth book in his long-running Jack Reacher series. Like countless modern screen action stars, the ex-Military Police Major has strong elements of the anti-hero; serving as judge, jury and executioner at will throughout. Whilst not exactly an original setup, the promise of Werner Herzog as the shadowy digit-less villain and a late game Robert Duvall cameo pique enough interest to distinguish the tale from a slew of popcorn-shovelling romps.
The opening sequence is constructed almost as a high-octane homage to Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry. From the perspective of a deadly sniper, a magnified scope fills the frame and takes painstaking time to survey the lives of potential targets parading along the Pittsburgh riverside: businessmen and women, families, vagrants, children and stall workers have their movements tensely traced before a barrage of gunfire is unleashed, leaving five victims. No sooner have the police all-too-promptly detained suspect James Barr (Sikora), Reacher drifts onto the scene offering Barr’s defence attorney Helen Rodin (Pike) assistance in investigating his potential innocence.
Investigation is something which is handled well, for the most part. While action sequences (including a classic car chase) are often choreographed and executed competently, there’s a refreshingly deliberate pace to the unfolding narrative over the course of the first two acts. In fact, Reacher‘s script only really falls apart during high-energy scenes; frequently breaking away from the protagonist’s introduced stoicism to let Cruise unleash a barrage of awkwardly-timed one-liners and gags. It’s a jarring juxtaposition in tone, often coming across as a complete afterthought tacked on to the script.
Disappointingly, Werner Herzog’s “The Zec” is criminally underused. Despite sporting more than his fair share of Bond villain-esq deformities, he does little more than snarl with a Soviet twang and look ominous throughout the handful of scenes he shows up in. Most of the functional villainy is provided by Charlie (Courtney); The Zec’s fresh-faced henchman-in-a-box, and dab hand with a rifle. As the third act approaches, Reacher begins to lose its steam, culminating in a clunky action set-piece saved somewhat by a scenery-chewing Duvall who – at 82 – is most definitely getting too old for this shit.
Perhaps the most off-putting element of the film, though, is the distinct impression that the 12A certification was a truly misguided decision. It makes for an almost uncomfortable watch: the visceral nature of the violence is intact, as are allusions to harsher themes such as sexual abuse and torture, but little on-screen blood is shed. No harm done, right? On the other hand during the second act, Reacher dispatches of two henchmen in an awkwardly slapstick encounter reminiscent of a Three Stooges sketch — injecting ill-fitting moments of empty laughter to the experience. The interplay between these extremes is ever-present to varying degrees throughout, occasionally draining any narrative momentum built up in preceding sequences.
Ultimately, Jack Reacher ends up something of a squandered mess. Many of the key elements are present: a strong lead, intriguing narrative, Werner Herzog… and there are definitely moments where this potential is close to being realised. Unfortunately it misses more than it hits, especially so in the latter half where frustrations and roadblocks are to be found around almost every narrative corner towards a bafflingly abrupt climax.