When it was first announced that Tom Cruise was going to play Jack Reacher, the protagonist of Lee Child’s bestselling book series, there was overwhelming backlash. “Tom Cruise is too short to play the gigantic Reacher” “Tom Cruise is the worst possible actor for the part” and a Facebook page called Tom Cruise is not Jack Reacher was even created. One look at the film’s IMDB boards before it was released also only featured people complaining about Cruise’s casting. There was a similar reaction when it was announced that Heath Ledger would play the Joker, although he went on to win an Oscar for that role.
In this action-thriller, Tom Cruise completely disappears into the role of Reacher, playing the character so effectively that you forget that this is someone who just several months ago was dominating headlines because of his divorce and completely believe that he is Child’s creation, putting the fan boys to rest. Child (who makes a brief cameo) was also very supportive of Cruise’s casting, if only the fan boys had stopped to listen. Most memorable about Cruise’s performance is how he is brilliant at solving crimes, but does not seem to know what to say at the right time to people.
It seemed like a strange decision to cast German filmmaker Werner Herzog, known for directing documentaries such as Grizzly Man and fiction films such as Bad Lieutenant (2009) as a villain in a major Hollywood film, but Herzog delivers an outstanding performance as a softly spoken psychopath known as the Zec (translated as prisoner) who in one scene recounts a grisly tale of how he lost his fingers, making the audience feel uncertain about whether to hate or pity him. It is a shame that Herzog only had a very limited amount of screen time.
The plot follows the novel One Shot, as ex military policeman turned drifter Jack Reacher is lead to believe that someone he once knew, who has been accused of committing a shooting spree, has been set up, and tries to uncover the truth.
The film’s action sequences, re, unfortunately, its major drawback. One Shot was clearly chosen over the other books in the series to be adapted into a film because it featured the most action, and therefore could be given a Hollywood friendly treatment. And while the film works fine as an evenly paced crime and detective film, the occasional action sequences, were confusing, badly edited and seemed like they had been thrown in in order for the film to be able to have action packed footage to use in its trailers. Unfortunately, the film is also rated PG-13, when in order to really capture the feel of Child’s books, it should have been rated R. Christopher Maguire, the film’s director, has only directed one other film, the 2000 crime thriller The Way Of The Gun, but apparently Cruise wants him to direct Mission Impossible 5. If he does, hopefully he will learn from his mistakes in Jack Reacher and direct coherent action sequences.
Although the action sequences did not work, many of the other visual elements of the film did. Near the beginning we are shown are prolonged first person view shot of a sniper scope aiming at civilians, but the shot lasts for so long that we are left feeling uneasy and uncertain if the unseen person holding the gun will shoot. We then cut to another shot, to relive tension and make the viewer feel as though the person won’t shoot, before the film abruptly cuts back the shot of the scope as the culprit opens fire. This was a surprisingly effective shot which shows that a lot of effort had been put in to how the film can surprise audiences. And the plot featured so many interesting details that the viewer will be kept guessing until the very last minute – unless if they’ve read the book, of course.
Jack Reacher was probably an attempt to establish a new franchise for Cruise, and despite the film’s occasional shortcomings, left me hungry for more, particularly because of Cruise and Herzog’s strong performances. If there is more to come, then this could be one of the few big film franchises where the films are actually worth watching. And contrary to whatever people believed before, Tom Cruise really is Jack Reacher.