Jack Reacher (2012)
There is often scope for controversy whenever a well-known literary figure is brought to the big screen. Physical descriptions previously established by the author are often ignored in favour of casting a known star. However, books and film are very different mediums so such changes can be done in the name of artistic license. Furthermore, if they are done with intelligence and integrity they can be beneficial. The casting of Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher is a bold step because of the obvious difference between the actor's and fictional character's stature. Yet it works extremely well. Tom Cruise simply excels in the role. It should also be noted that author Lee Child endorsed his casting, stating that “Reacher's size in the books is a metaphor for an unstoppable force, which Cruise portrays in his own way."
So now that we have that matter out of the way, what exactly does Jack Reacher have to offer as a mainstream Hollywood thriller? Well for starters it has a tightly written, intelligent script filled with interesting, plausible characters and a story-line that doesn't strain ones sense of incredulity. Secondly, it is well paced, beautifully shot, showcases strong performances from all involved and keeps the audience emotionally invested and engaged. Finally, unlike many movies that cynically exploit the confines of the PG-13 rating, trying to peddle adult themes to a younger audience without dirtying their hands; Jack Reacher successfully depicts acts of violence with restraint and skill, portraying dark and quite shocking events in a dramatic yet unexploitative manner. Simple put this is very good cinema.
After an ex-military sniper appears to shoot five innocent people in cold blood, the Police and D.A. think they have an open and shut case. The only request that the suspects makes is "get Jack Reacher". Within a matter of hours, the said Mr. Reacher arrives but to the defence councils surprise, not to exonerate the accused but to "bury him". Surprised by the accused's request, Reacher then embarks upon his own investigation and it soon becomes apparent that all it not what it seems and someone powerful wants Reacher’s enquiries shutdown. However, Jack has no intention of being sidelined and uses his experience as a former Military Policeman to penetrate the ongoing mystery.
At the centre of the movie is Tom Cruise, who brings Jack Reacher to life in a very natural performance. Reacher is not a traditional hero, nor is he as binary as many other alpha male stereotypes. His appeal lies in his keen mind, which stems from his military training. His strong moral code and direct manner also make his character both credible and likeable. Writer/Director Christopher McQuarrie does not add any unnecessary Hollywood tropes to the screenplay. There is no superfluous romance between Reacher and defence lawyer Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike). Rodin is also a credible female character and bereft of the usual stereotypical baggage. The dialogue is candid and direct, with Reacher especially speaking his mind. The hand to hand combat and the use of firearms are depicted realistically. The movie makes no concessions to lazy viewers and expects the audience to concentrate and think.
If this wasn't enough, we are also treated to an extended cameo by Robert Duvall, who as usual makes great acting look so easy and natural. Frankly I was surprised at how good this movie was and the impact it had. It reminded me of many the great thrillers produced during the seventies; films such as Three Days of the Condor and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Movies that were lean, streamlined and driven by strong scripts and performances. Jack Reacher most definitely has that vibe to it as well as the sumptuous visual sophistication that modern film making can have. The dialogue is littered with dry quips and asides which enhances the characters. They're relatively profanity free which is a rare thing these days, yet still very effective.
I have never read any of Lee Child's novels so I was able to watch this movie adaptation without any major pre-conceptions. From my perspective, Jack Reacher is a breath of fresh air and a welcome improvement on mainstream studio thrillers. For those who have a strong connection to the source text, I would urge them to temporarily put aside their preconceptions and give Jack Reacher an objective viewing, bearing in mind the key word “adaptation”. I think people may well be pleasantly surprised, especially in light of the authors own personal endorsement.