THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Jack Reacher opens with a deeply chilling sequence. A sniper goes to an abandoned part of a Pittsburgh parking garage and sets up his rifle. In a long, unbroken shot, we look through his scope as he assesses which of the innocent bystanders across the river he wants to shoot. His choices made, he then begins to pick them off one by one. His POV remains ours, although we can hear the screaming and chaos his actions have caused echoing through the garage. There have been similar sequences in other movies, but it's the icy detachment with which director Christopher McQuarrie films it that makes this one so eerie. It really gets across the idea that a sniper holds the power to end someone's life in a split second, without that person even being aware of danger. It also sets up the twisting, turning plot that is about to unfold.
After the shooting, the sniper is caught and interrogated by District Attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins) and investigating detective Emerson (David Oyelowo). He tells them nothing, except to get in touch with a man named Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise). Reacher is a ghost, a former military investigator who knows the sniper's dirty secrets. Rodin and Emerson want nothing to do with him when he shows up, but Rodin's daughter Helen (Rosamund Pike) does. She's an attorney who has been hired to defend the sniper, so she hires Reacher to spearhead an investigation into the motives behind the shooting. Reacher, eager to bury the guy for his own reasons, soon finds that the case isn't as black-and-white as it initially appears. Before long, he is in the cross-hairs of a dangerous criminal named “The Zec,” played, in an inspired bit of casting, by enigmatic filmmaker Werner Herzog.
The conspiracy that Reacher uncovers contains one fairly predictable element that seems to be a requirement in these sorts of stories. Beyond that, though, it's very tightly plotted. Based on Lee Child's best-selling novel, the movie often leads you down certain roads, only to unexpectedly change course right when you think you know where it's going. New factors are added that only gradually reveal a connection to the central investigation. McQuarrie (the Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Usual Suspects) disguises his red herrings well, and his legitimate clues even better, creating a sense of satisfaction every time a new piece of the puzzle clicks into place. Best of all, the central mystery holds together and is logical, which makes the film as a whole even more compelling.
I'm told that, on the page, Jack Reacher is 6'5” tall and weighs 250 pounds. Needless to say, that ain't Tom Cruise, by a longshot. Nevertheless, the actor makes the role his own, bringing a fantastic smart-ass quality to the character. Reacher always has a quip at the ready. Not the cheesy kind of '80s-era Schwarzenegger quip, but one designed to combine wit with intimidation. When a store clerk asks to see his ID, Reacher refuses. “I need to see something,” the clerk replies. Reacher's retort: “How about the inside of an ambulance?” This trait, combined with lethal fighting skills and a fearlessness in the face of danger, makes him an intriguing, imposing figure. Cruise plays him beautifully.
Jack Reacher also benefits from quirky humor. I was surprised at how funny the movie is. The humor sneaks up on you and always originates from the characters/situations. Whereas some movies try to force in humor to lighten things up, this one allows it to grow naturally, using it to emphasize how confounding Reacher is to those around him. His special skills aren't visibly apparent, so bad people mess with him, only to be caught off guard by his mental and physical abilities.
Despite what the marketing would lead you to believe, the movie is more mystery than action flick, although it does have a doozy of a car chase and a tense third-act shootout, in addition to some well-staged fisticuffs. The combination of strong mystery, eccentric characterization, off-kilter humor, and sporadic, yet effective, action makes Jack Reacher feel different from the garden variety tough-guy-solving-a-crime thriller. It is an enormously entertaining movie. Jack Reacher has been the subject of seventeen Lee Child novels. I want movie sequels.
( 1/2 out of four)
Jack Reacher is rated PG-13 for violence, language and some drug material. The running time is 1 hour and 26 minutes.
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