(Christopher McQuarrie, 2012)
Good things about Jack Reacher:
1. The return of Christopher McQuarrie to directing after a 12 year gap. His directorial debut, The Way of the Gun, is a blistering, nasty little piece of self-conscious pulp and it (together with his superb screenplay for Brian Singers The Usual Suspects) suggested he might be a talent to watch. Shame its taken this long for him to work as Director once more.
2. This is an unpretentious slice of genre from a director who understands the appeal of pulp very well. As such it recalls the action movies from previous decades in focusing on simple pleasures. There is a car chase here, reminding us that, done well, car chases actually don't have to be boring. It ends like any number of bad action movies, with the heroine, attorney Helen Rodin, kidnapped by the villains, and the eponymous hero (Tom Cruise) coming to save her. He does this with guns and combat acumen, basically, so that there are lots of fights and gun battles here too. No cgi, no green screens, no wires or trickery. Just stunts and exciting editing and cinematography.
3. This is the kind of film where the hero deliberately tosses away his weapon and the advantage it gives him in order to engage in a climactic fistfight with the chief henchman (Jai Courtney). In the rain. In a quarry. I mean this in a good way, of course.
4. For the most part, this is both a whodunnit and a whydunnit, with Reacher - who is ex Military police, and now wanders the Earth unencumbered by possessions or responsibilities - and Rodin investigating an ex-military sniper's seemingly random gunning down of five innocent pedestrians. All of that is beautifully established in an entirely wordless opening ten minutes or so, and McQuarrie reveals a gift for painless exposition throughout, introducing Reacher himself via a montage with a conversation about his mysterious lifestyle over the top, and filling in the sniper's character and history by similar means.
5. Werner Herzog plays the villain. He's only in about two scenes as The Zek, but he is terrifying here, one eye milked up, most of his fingers chewed off in a Siberian Labour Camp, the terror he inspires in his underlings evident in his first scene, where he has a whispered, horrifying monologue. More European directors should play villains in Hollywood action movies: Michael Haneke would work.
6. Its not set in New York or Los Angeles, no; this is Pittsburgh, a more interesting and gritty location, and one that the film - shot by the legendary Caleb Deschanel - uses to nice effect.
7. Its a little reminiscent of the attempts in the 1960s and 70s to adapt various series of crime novels to the big screen in that it doesn't entirely work, its not massively exciting, but its kind of cool anyway. Also: it seems aimed (mostly) at adults, not teenagers.
Bad things about Jack Reacher:
1. Yeah, we've seen it all before. Often on tv, in low budget action series. Its undeniably done better here, but not by that much...
2. Tom Cruise. He is famously miscast as the (in the books) 6"5 Reacher, but he gets past that by playing the character as an unremitting bad-ass, who generally has the smarts and skill-set to get out of any situation. The problem is more the effect his presence has on the rest of the film. Early scenes depicting him - his face as yet unseen by the audience - buying clothes in a shop virtually show the staff swooning behind the counter at his movie star looks. The same thing happens when he enters a bar. Later, he has a pointless topless scene, all the better to reveal his ridiculously buff 50 year old physique.
3. A brilliant supporting cast are largely wasted. Pike - the perfect Hitchcock ice-queen blonde a few decades too late, and a fine actress - is more a plot device than a character, David Oyelowo as the Detective on the case does more posing than performing, and the brilliant Richard Jenkins has nothing to do as Pike's D.A. father. Robert Duvall shows up late on and plays the same crusty old character he's played in the majority of his films over the last ten years or so, chuckling through lines that aren't all that funny.
So hey, the positives outweigh the negatives.