Tom Cruise is back, this time as iconic pulp literary character Jack Reacher, from the Lee Child novels. The film honestly isn’t a bad watch, primarily because of its gritty, rugged feel as well as its lead actor’s usual charm. However, the film isn’t going to grab you by the throat and make your jaw drop with awe either.
I must confess at the outset that I haven’t read any of Lee Child’s novels, so I have no inherent knowledge or fondness for the character of Jack Reacher, played by Tom Cruise in the film. I’ve heard, though, that die-hard fans of the books and the character felt, right from the time of its announcement, that Tom Cruise was a bad fit as Reacher; some research will tell you that he certainly doesn’t match the physical attributes of the character. Well, one of the big problems with Jack Reacher, the film, is that the cinematic Reacher just doesn’t come across as a character worth being a die-hard fan of in the first place.
A daring murder of five seemingly random people in broad daylight leads to the arrest of an ex-military sniper who clearly looks guilty of this shocking crime. However, the murder ends up getting Jack Reacher, an ex-military investigator embroiled in the case, as the crime seems to be far murkier than what it looked like on the surface.
On the plus side, the film has a constant sense of mystery about it. Not treated like one would normally expect a big-budget, Hollywood action film to be treated, the film unfolds slowly, without fanfare. So, while new facts and faces are uncovered all the time, it doesn’t really announce them or dwell long on them. The background music is also surprisingly held in check, with long bits of silence embellished with nothing more than just gentle ambient sound. The result is the kind of thriller that relies on mood and atmosphere to work its charms, rather than grand unveils of a good ol’ ‘big twist’ or two.
Also, the action is a refreshing change from what one is used to seeing big Hollywood stars do in their big films. It is grittier, more personal, hand-to-hand combat and precision-sniping rather than cable-propelled, gravity-defying slambang-ery that is more prevalent in films mounted on this scale. That and its lead hero’s charms make it seem more intense, less ‘in your face’.
However, what the film gains in terms of mood, it loses that and then some because of its writing. The plot itself is like an old-school American spy film. The screenplay has enough flaws and raises enough fundamental questions for you to poke away at it continuously in real time, while your brain is processing it. That combined with the fact that everyone seems to be taking themselves and their characters far too seriously in the film makes you want to, every once in a while, tap some character on the shoulder and ask them, “You’re kidding me, right?”
Cruise himself seems to be the only who seems to have understood what the real tone of the treatment should have been like. He has a perpetual, all-knowing poker face about him; like he’s teasing the audience with the feeling that he actually knows what’s going on and is playing us along for the fun of it. If that had been how the rest of the characters had been interpreted and portrayed, it could have actually made for a fun watch. The character of Reacher itself seems rather bland and uninteresting, which made me wonder why it has such a following in the first place. I guess that can only be answered by actually reading the books.
The only other cast member who evokes any reaction, that too only for his presence rather than any acting skill, is the great Werner Herzog who plays a shady, comic-book-ish operator. Rosamund Pike looks lovely and performs earnestly, but even she faces the same problem of taking herself and the film far too seriously.
Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie hasn’t done much wrong with ‘Jack Reacher’. The problem really lies in the fact that he hasn’t done very much right either. The next few years will see him collaborate with Cruise quite often; his name is already attached with the next Mission: Impossible film, as well as the Top Gun sequel. Hopefully he’ll get his act together in time to manage to use his larger-than-life movie star in a far better manner. Jack Reacher is the kind of film which hardcore fans of Cruise (such as myself) would quite like. Others may like it for its calm, intense and dark tone, but I don’t see very many people being blown away by the film.
This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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