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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 21, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 51
Old-school Jack Reacher a tough, intelligent thriller
Arts & Entertainment
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Old-school Jack Reacher a tough, intelligent thriller

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

JACK REACHER
Opens December 21


Former Army sniper Barr (Joseph Sikora) has allegedly gone insane and shot five people. Lead investigator Detective Emerson (David Oyelowo) and Pittsburgh District Attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins) are positive of his guilt, the evidence against him too massive to ignore. They offer the sniper a deal: confess and live out your life in prison or refuse and face execution.

The accused doesn't say a word, doesn't ask for anything, doesn't try to proclaim his innocence or accept his guilt. Instead, he writes down a single statement, 'Get Jack Reacher.'

Thus begins Jack Reacher, writer and director Christopher McQuarrie's (The Way of the Gun) adaptation of Lee Child's One Shot with superstar Tom Cruise playing the popular titular hero. What unfolds next is a robust, intelligently plotted, aggressively executed potboiler of subterfuge and honor, all of it whirling around a character who believes in justice first, with all else nothing more than a secondary concern. A loner who lives off of the grid and sticks to a hardened moral code cemented into him during his military service and years traveling the globe learning its cultures and ways, Reacher doesn't mince words and doesn't back down. He's an old-school hero - a Western archetype in a digital age - and while his methods aren't pretty, he gets the job done.

CONSPIRACY UNCOVERED
The twist in this particular story is that Reacher arrives to bury Barr, not to save him, and it's only through the prodding of the man's attorney, Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), the D.A.'s estranged daughter, that he even agrees to take a fresh look at the evidence, his mind already made up because of Barr's past misdeeds. But being the driven investigator that he is, when he uncovers facets of a massive conspiracy separating the sniper from the crime and implicating others, his focus shifts, his anger over the situation only quelled by his belief that justice must be done.

For those unfamiliar with the book it would be unfair to say more, and while the twists and turns aren't entirely surprising there is some fun to be found in deciphering the whats and the whys behind the horrific sniper attack on Pittsburgh's unsuspecting citizenry. McQuarrie's script is unfussy and stripped-down, the filmmaker keeping things as focused as possible wiping away any unnecessary filler or fat. By and large no scene feels out of place or fails to propel the plot forward. Even seemingly innocuous moments, such as one between Reacher and a frazzled auto-parts employee (Alexia Fast), have far more importance than one might initially surmise.

If anything, the movie is as retro and as analog as its hero. It feels like a Walter Hill film from the late '70s or early '80s, certain elements recalling classic hard-hitting thrillers like The Driver or 48 Hrs., and that includes the comedic elements inherent in both pictures. It's all classily photographed by the great Caleb Deschanel (Fly Away Home; The Right Stuff) and meticulously edited by Kevin Stitt (Breakdown), their superb work culminating in an adrenaline-fueled car chase through the streets of Pittsburg that's downright spectacular. The pieces fit together with precision, McQuarrie taking Child's story (the ninth of 17 Jack Reacher novels) and doing nothing short of wonders with it.

That's a bit of hyperbole on my part - Jack Reacher is not without its sillier aspects or problematic moments. As great as it is to see Cruise and Robert Duvall working together again after 22 years (they both were in Days of Thunder), the latter's appearance at the end is a bit nonsensical, and if not for the pair's superior chemistry this turn of events wouldn't have worked nearly as well as it ultimately does. Also, Reacher's approach to solving the case is a little more simplistically vulgar than necessary, and while there is a cathartic thrill to be found in his single-minded ferocity, the John Wayne-meets-Arnold Schwarzenegger-meets-Clint Eastwood finality of it all does seem slightly (only slightly) out of place.

GREAT FIGHTS, CAR CHASES
But as problems go these feel relatively minor. Pike makes for a winning sidekick, Duvall's appearance made me want to applaud, and the inclusion of revered director Werner Herzog as the villainous force propelling events forward is close to genius (he's awesome). The fight scenes, all three of them, provide a visceral kick that is undeniable, while as I've already stated that signature car chase is one of the best I've seen in quite some time (echoes of The French Connection, Bullitt, and Ronin more than intentional).

While many critics have pointed out that Cruise does not fit the physical description of the character as provided in Child's books, internally he is flawless. I believed him as Reacher for every second of the film. A sequence inside a bar as he calmly and with more than an ounce of exasperation tries to convince a gaggle of youthful toughs from picking a fight with him, - a fight he knows they'll lose - says everything we need to know about the man and does it in precious few syllables.

I'm not sure what general audiences will make of Jack Reacher, but I hope it's a hit. Devoid of CGI, absent otherworldly stunt work that defies credulity and was obviously in some way faked, the movie is a return to action-thriller esthetics of a bygone age, McQuarrie making a movie for mature audiences that doesn't belittle their intelligence or ask them to suspend belief too far outside the norm. It's quality entertainment, and I can't help but hope that Cruise and company get the opportunity to return to this well again.

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