One of the first images we will see is the scope of a sniper rifle. The gunman aims at innocent people, strolling on the waterfront. This is the calm before the storm. Soon, he will open fire, ending a handful of lives for no apparent reason. In 99% of Hollywood movies, the rest of the film would be dedicated to the hunt to catch this sniper. But in Christopher McQuarrie's Jack Reacher, the sniper is immediately arrested by the Feds -- it's a seemingly open and shut case.
Once in custody, the sniper -- James Barr, a former U.S. Marine who served in Afghanistan-- won't speak a word. He simply scrawls something on a piece of paper: GET JACK REACHER. The Feds glance at each other and shrug. This could easily have been a Chuck Norris movie and, I say that with all due respect.
As portrayed by Tom Cruise, Jack Reacher is a bad-ass of epic proportions. You will see him kick the crap out of a few villains, that's a given. But Jack Reacher could be the most bad-ass of all the bad-ass bad-asses whoever bad-assed. An ex-military investigator with a total disregard for well... everything, except what's right. He's a renegade who plays by his own rules, meaning if this movie had come out in 1988, that'd be fine.
But as you know, it is 2012. In the context of today, Reacher feels like a somewhat idealized protagonist. Is there anything he can't do? The fact that the rather short Mr. Cruise is depicted beating up 300 pound stunt men must be mentioned. His public persona (and actual height) is so well known that his macho posturing elicited genuine laughter from the audience at my screening. Thankfully, the turn-your-brain-off aspects do not take away too much from the overall feel.
This is an unconventional action movie, in the best sense of the term. The film's strong point is undoubtedly McQuarrie's script, no surprise from the former Oscar winner. The dialogue in particular stands out. James Bond always made jokes that the audience never laughed at. Mr. Reacher on the other hand, gets laughs. Big laughs. Look no further than his encounter with a girl named Sandy at a local bar. He's as adept at joke-making as he is at jaw-breaking, that Jack Reacher!
What McQuarrie nails is that beautiful grey area between good guys and bad guys. His past works like The Way of the Gun (a gritty masterpiece) proved that he could write tough-guy-talk as well as anyone. But here, he takes these themes to a shockingly thoughtful level. Even the sniper's victims (and their families) are not free from Reacher's scrutiny. In one of the picture's best moments, Jack Reacher pulls a Sherlock Holmes and puts the deaths of a few innocent people into a rather troubling light. Maybe they were not so innocent after all. Trust me-- this is the guy who wrote The Usual Suspects. He knows how to handle a plot twist.
Much has been written online about the supposed stunt-casting of the great Werner Herzog as the film's villain. Truly one of cinema's most important artists, Herzog 's performance is chillingly understated. His introductory scene is without a doubt, one of my favorite from any movie this year. (Think: Fingers.) Sadly, his character was drastically under-utilized. We spend far more time with his far less interesting minions and foot soldiers.
Indeed, this is one of the better action flicks I've seen in 2012 and yet, it pales in comparison to Rian Johnson's Looper. Both are intelligent and well-written but, unfortunately, Jack Reacher was just a little less enjoyable.
Tony Hinds is a Canadian writer who studied film at the University of Winnipeg. In addition to ShowbizMonkeys.com, Tony has reviewed films for Step On Magazine and The Uniter. You can find Tony on Twitter.