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Non-Review Review: Jack Reacher

Much like its eponymous leading man, Jack Reacher is efficient. That’s probably the best thing that can be said about this adaptation of Lee Child’s One Shot. Coming in at two hours, the movie manages to keep everything relatively under control. Any fuzzy logic is masked by the smart decision to keep things moving at a quick enough pace, distracting from the fact we’ve seen it all before, or that the characters seem especially paper-thin. At times, Jack Reacher suffers from being a little too shallow, a little too safe, a little too predictable. While Christopher McQuarrie can be an excellent writer, he seems to be only developing as a director. He handles movement reasonably well, but the direction amps up the melodrama to almost unbearable levels at certain points in the film.

It’s not terrible, and it’s certainly not an out-and-out failure, but I’d struggle to argue that it’s a successful franchise launch. For most of its runtime, Jack Reacher succeeds at merely being inoffensive and trying not to weigh too heavily on our patience. It’s not the most convincing of victories, but it could have been a lot worse.

Gearing up for a franchise...

Gearing up for a franchise…

To be entirely fair, there are moments when it seems like Jack Reacher might possibly come to life. One sequence early on covers a police investigation into a shooting spree through a montage without any dialogue. It’s a shrewd way of covering a lot of ground very quickly, and it trades off the audience’s knowledge of crime scene investigation. It covers the essential narrative requirements of the introduction, but it does this almost effortlessly and unobtrusively. Another movie might have burdened the opening fifteen minutes with exposition, but McQuarrie communicates all the essential information without missing a beat and in a way that doesn’t seem too trite or two awkward.

In a way, this approach typifies the best aspects of Jack Reacher. It is, from the opening frame of the movie to the point where the credits role, extremely predictable. Anybody with any experience with mystery thrillers will have absolutely no difficulty figuring out the objective of the opening killing spree, and could make a pretty decent guess at the motivations. To be fair, McQuarrie doesn’t hide the evidence necessary to figure it out in order to add a “twist.” He doesn’t attempt to make the film seem smarter by concealing these details that point to key plot revelations. Jack Reacher plays fair with the audience, which I respect, but it makes it a lot easier to follow and to predict.

Wait a Zek!

Wait a Zek!

As such, there are no real surprises to be found here, but Jack Reacher at least executes most of the mandated plot points with admirably effectiveness, if not enthusiasm. The other high point of the film is a sequence that will seem incredibly familiar to thriller aficionados. Werner Herzog emerges about a third of the way playing the shadowy villain “the Zek.” Herzog is a delightfully surreal choice for the role. Even though his character is one-note, there’s something quite off-putting about seeing the beloved director putting his own stamp on a stereotypical Eurotrash bad guy.

Anyway, the sequence that introduces “the Zek” is probably the most effective moment in the film, despite the fact that it’s playing off one of the oldest clichés in the book. Here, Zek finds himself applying the obligatory henchman “aggressive termination” contract clause after one of his employees mistakenly follows his own initiative. It’s something we all know by heart, but Jack Reacher manages to use the scene quite well, allowing to to build “the Zek” as a character and also to surprisingly unnerve the audience. Unfortunately, nothing ever really matches that moment, but it serves as the best illustration of the movie’s strength. Jack Reacher isn’t about genre innovation, it’s about executing the tropes as efficiently as possible.

Sight for sore eyes...

Sight for sore eyes…

Unfortunately, that strength is also a bit of a weakness. This approach creates a movie that is – to be frank – rather lean. All the chewy bits are gone. Characters don’t seem to exist, so betrayals carry no weight. Tom Cruise is – here’s that word again – efficient as Jack Reacher, but Reacher never feels like a character in his own right. The movie doesn’t allow itself to get distracted from the plot long enough to define who exactly Jack Reacher is. All we get is a surface-level “badass” who apparently likes to drink blood out of strange clothing items. The movie allows Reacher one brief speech about coming home from the war, but it isn’t enough to help him seem like more than a generic leading man.

In many ways, Jack Reacher himself reminds me of Jack Bauer from 24, although perhaps that’s just because Bauer is the single best example of that “badass soldier” archetype in the twenty-first century. (Okay, so he was a spy, but still.) Many of Reacher’s feats and attributes conform to that sort of anti-hero. He breaks bones with impunity. He doesn’t shy from executions. He is always twelve steps ahead, despite being caught up in a conspiracy that should be several times larger than him.

Mechanical...

Mechanical…

However, Kiefer Sutherland imbued Jack Bauer with a powerful sense of humanity and tragedy that is sorely lacking here. Reacher is constantly demonstrated to be ahead of his opponents, which doesn’t work from a storytelling point of view. At one point, he demonstrates pretty much complete control of a hostage situation after the bad guys mess with a colleague. Towards the climax, the bad guys are jumping a foot in the air at the slightest sound. All of this makes Reacher seem pretty badass, but it never creates a sense of threat to anything that unfolds. Reacher never seems caught out or at a disadvantage. The character is practically sleepwalking through the film, which doesn’t make it too exciting.

If Reacher is shallow, everybody else is barely there. There’s an inevitable double-cross at one point that makes no sense. The character involved attempts to offer a justification for his actions, but it seems like he just suddenly switched sides because something needed to happen in the script. The bad guys also suffer. Once again, like everything else, they are efficient. There’s a conspiracy at work. It reaches far. However, we have no idea how far. We see maybe five guys involved in this seemingly massive and perpetual manipulation.

It's a Days of Thunder reunion!

It’s a Days of Thunder reunion!

Are these five guys the clean-up crew for something a bit more above-board? After all, given how “the Zek” doesn’t like to be seen, one imagines he doesn’t sit on any corporate boards. If so, doesn’t this whole run-around become a bit pointless if Reacher doesn’t go higher up the food-chain? Is “the Zek” just hired muscle, or is this something he is more deeply involved in? After all, he hardly seems the kind to be too concerned with paperwork.

The movie does offer an intriguing villain, albeit one that seems sadly outdated. The ultimate bad guys feel like they would have been very clever about five years ago, but now seem just a little too convenient. Sadly, the movie never digs too deeply into this interesting idea, settling for vaguely pseudo-philosophical mumbo-jumbo. Asked when he will have “enough”, “the Zek” retorts, “Enough? There is no such thing! We take what needs to be taken! That is what we do.” As far as villainous mission statements go, it’s simple and to the point. However, it doesn’t seem to have too much substance to it.

Fair cop...

Fair cop…

Then again, I suppose that the same could be said of the film as a whole. It’s not bad. It’s a reasonable well-constructed film that adheres almost religiously to genre convention, but there’s nothing wrong with that – if that’s what you’re in the mood for. Christmas is the perfect time for something like that, and Jack Reacher is constructed in such a way that it’s easy to digest. You just might wish for a bit more flavour.

4 Responses

  1. …but predictable, huh? i still have to support, because it’s tom cruise and i love him

    • It’s not a fatal flaw. It’s just something I had difficulty getting past. Technically, it’s well-executed. It hits everything it needs to, but is a little too mechanical. There’s a scene or two where it excels at these standard plot devices, but mostly it is just hitting the required notes. It could be a lot better, but the end result isn’t inherently bad, once you get past how conventional it is.

      I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think.

  2. I like the way it look, giving a shot and hope its good 😀

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