Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie, from the novel One Shot by Lee Child
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog, Robert Duvall
Length: 130 min.
The decision to postpone the American theatrical release of Jack Reacher is starkly justified in the film’s harrowing opening minutes. Intensified by the use of total silence, the cold-blooded and systematic shooting of five ‘random’ civilians by a concealed sniper on the waterfront outside PNC Park – the home of Major League Baseball team the Pittsburgh Pirates – would be uncomfortable viewing at the best of times. However, in the immediate aftermath of the Newtown, Connecticut school massacre, it is not only a raw reminder of those tragic events, but an indictment of Hollywood’s approach to violence and the lack of gun control in the country.
That only six months earlier Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad (2012) was recut and its release date postponed due to a scene eerily similar to the cinema shootings in Aurora, Colorado once again positions the notion of life imitating art at the forefront of cinematic criticism. [Perhaps the eeriest example is the March 2001 pilot episode of The X-Files spin-off series The Lone Gunmen, which preempted 9/11 with a narrative involving a passenger flight being guided by radio control into a building.]
So Jack Reacher, a seemingly innocuous airport fiction adaptation, has quickly come to represent far more than the mere sum of its parts, a text that will undoubtedly garner considerable analysis and criticism for some time for its depiction of violence and the potential effects of that violence on audience members.
This seems an unfair burden to place on any one film, but particularly one as entertaining as Jack Reacher. In the wake of Bond, Bourne and Batman, action franchises that strive for relevance through realism, Christopher McQuarrie’s approach here is refreshing: it both elevates the material of a fairly average Lee Child novel while also successfully returning the genre to the exaggerated roots of the quality 80s action film. Jack Reacher does not aim to be an important film, but a fun one.
Akin to the tone of Mel Gibson’s turn in the underrated Payback (Brian Helgeland 1999), Tom Cruise revels in the anti-heroic titular role of an ex-military policeman who now lives off the map wandering America, assisting those in need … but only if and when he wants to. Reacher’s introverted nature makes him an unlikely and, at times, unlikable protagonist, yet we are drawn to him because he seems real, even if the story supporting him does not. His genuine disinterest in what others make of him, and his refusal to adhere to the accepted conventions of the ‘good guy,’ make him more fascinating than the typical action lead. It also helps that his many quotable one-liners are wonderfully biting.
Cruise and McQuarrie – the Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer 1995) – are potentially one of the most powerful creative partnerships currently at work in Hollywood, with Valkyrie (2008) and now Jack Reacher already under their belts, and All You Need Is Kill, Top Gun 2 and Mission: Impossible 5 all projects that both men are attached to, never mind that Lee Child has another 16 Reacher novels on the market.
Jack Reacher’s occasional bowing to cliché initially seems lazy in a film that cleverly subverts action film expectations; however, on further consideration these moments seem purposeful. McQuarrie is a smart filmmaker who realises the need to remind us that this is nothing deeper than a popcorn film, no matter what sinister shadow current affairs cast over it.by