JACK REACHER (2012, Christopher McQuarrie): 7/10
Oh, how I’ve waited so long to type that name Christopher McQuarrie in parentheses. It’s been twelve long years since his directorial debut THE WAY OF THE GUN, one of the best crime thrillers of all time and a top 10 of its decade. I had hoped that film would kick-start a long career of high-art indies from CMcQ, but instead its poor reception (though in the last few years it seems more people have discovered or come around on it) seems to have driven him back to screenwriting (not a bad fallback considering he won an Oscar for THE USUAL SUSPECTS). And even better, he has been writing for Tom Cruise — having scripted VALKYRIE and done an uncredited full rewrite of GHOST PROTOCOL (changing the focus completely from a Jeremy Renner-centered plot to an Ethan Hunt-driven one).
So it makes sense Cruise would hire McQuarrie to write and direct the first in a wannabe franchise based on Lee Child’s novels about a merciless ex-soldier drifter. Unfortunately, these commercial prospects seem to have tied CMcQ’s hands just a bit, as he isn’t quite as free here to make a challenging, discriminating art film. Flashes of his genius are apparent here and there — such as in one bravura shot where Cruise is convincing Rosamund Pike (who is way out of her depth and disappointingly ineffective as a second fiddle, non-love-interest sidekick) that her client is innocent: With two 90-degree-angled windows reflecting Cruise, he marches towards her so that three images of Reacher triangulate upon her with imposing force. (I also don’t want to sell short veteran DP Caleb Deschanel’s work in this shot and on this film overall — it looks fantastic, even if a bit outdated on purpose).
McQuarrie’s dialogue is characteristically witty, giving the film a fairly jaunty spirit as it weaves a hard-hitting tale of violence and revenge. I just wish it had the ambition and scope of CMcQ’s debut; something to make it stand out more. Another drawback is Cruise’s performance — for some reason, despite being one of the most popular, bankable, and consistent movie stars in the world for almost 30 years, the guy’s acting talent has long been underrated. (See my ROCK OF AGES review for a more thorough defense). So I hold the guy to high standards, and this time around he’s a bit too one-note and fails to make his titular asshole even remotely likable. Reacher’s job seems to be twofold: to investigate a crime and bring the baddies to justice, as well as to be as much of a dick as possible to anyone in his way. He’s a bully without showing any vulnerability or fear.
Still, it’s nice to see Cruise get a DAYS OF THUNDER reunion with Robert Duvall, and the action scenes (a mid-film car chase and a climactic shootout/raid are high points) are slickly filmed and edited with an edge. There’s enough here to recommend as an above average time-killer, but if anyone was expecting something close to GUN’s jaw-dropping expertise, they should temper those hopes quickly. Maybe the problem is that this film is begging for a sequel, where GUN was destined to be one of a kind.