In “Jack Reacher,” can you buy Tom Cruise as a tall, 250-pounder?

Fans of the Jack Reacher novel series likely have an indelible mental picture of this character, given that he is almost six-and-a-half feet tall, with a 50-inch chest, weighing 210 to 250 pounds. When the trailers for the first film adaptation of a Jack Reacher novel hit the theaters, and it was revealed Tom Cruise was playing the title role, there had to be snorts of derision from the Reacher aficionados.

Thus, “Jack Reacher” will be facing a tough test in winning over those people. The rest of us have the luxury of appreciating Reacher as he is interpreted by Cruise and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, an Oscar winner for his screenplay for “The Usual Suspects.”

This Reacher story, based on “One Shot,” the ninth of what is to date a 17-book series, is perfect for McQuarrie, as it has events that are not quite as they seem.

“Jack Reacher” opens with a chilling point-of-view scene as a man with a high-powered rifle in an vacant structure across the river from the Pittsburgh Pirates stadium scans various people via the weapon’s telescopic mount, seemingly selecting his targets. When he is finished firing, five random people have been killed.

Within 16 hours, the investigation, conducted by lead detective Emerson (David Oyelowo), leads to a suspect, thanks to a crime scene that offers up too many clues. Under pressure from Emerson and District Attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins) to sign a confession, the suspect, a former Army sharpshooter named James Barr (Joseph Sikora), instead simply demands that they contact Jack Reacher.

Well, there is the problem. A search for Reacher fails. A former military police investigator for the Army, Reacher has gone off the grid, having returned to the United States. He has no cell phone number, no credit cards. He uses wire services to draw pension money from an account into which the funds are deposited.

However, Reacher, upon seeing news reports on the shootings, shows up in Pittsburgh. By then Barr has been set up to be beaten by other people in custody and is in a coma. Representing him legally is Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), daughter of the DA. The case seems like a slam dunk for the prosecution, and even Helen has conceded the best she may do is get Barr a life sentence rather than the death penalty.

Although Reacher also believes Barr is guilty, given that Barr gunned down a handful of people in a similar sniper attack in Iraq, he agrees to do some investigating for Helen. He soon discovers that things really do not add up, especially after he realizes he is being followed and even set up for a beating, which of course turns out more painful for the attackers than for Reacher.

“Jack Reacher” becomes a classic mystery thriller. McQuarrie did offer an early tease. We see the shooter’s face and when Barr is arrested, we can see he is not the shooter.

The movie is a Tom Cruise production, and one can see why he wanted to play the role despite being nearly a foot shorter than the book series version of the character. This is a role Cruise has proven he can play with assurance: a stoic but coolly confident character — the kind of character that warns his adversaries they are in for a big hurt, then carries through with that promise.

Since it is no surprise Barr has been framed for the shootings, the questions center around why the shootings and why the need for a patsy. We see the bad guys in action, and per usual they do nasty things to make them eligible for whatever consequences they meet.

For those not familiar with Lee Child’s Reacher series, “Jack Reacher” is a good mystery thriller, with action and humor. A nice added touch is Robert Duvall  as a crusty owner of a rifle range who becomes an ally for Reacher.

Lee Child (real name Jim Grant) must have endorsed this effort as he has a small part in the movie as a desk officer.

Cruise gets superb backup in the cast with Pike as a driven attorney who appreciates Reacher’s intuition, observations and brilliant interpretations of evidence, but never can really figure him out. Jenkins fits comfortably in the DA role, excellent at making the viewer uneasy about his true motivations. Duvall has a good time with his sarcastic wit and keen knowledge of firearms.

The question is whether this character will show up again on screen. With 16 other Reacher thrillers out there, this is a possibility. But like James Bond, the character’s life might go well beyond one actor’s  ability to play him.

“Hitchcock” focuses on a brilliant director, his wife and a risky venture

It seems like all books, movies or plays that eventually become classics are products of humble, troubled beginnings — initially dismissed as not having a chance at being successful yet given life by someone or some group that has enough faith in it to risk whatever is necessary to bring it to fruition.

Such is the story in “Hitchcock,” which may by its title appear be a biopic but in fact covers just one chapter in the brilliant career of director Alfred Hitchcock.

Director Sacha Gervais, in his first major feature, has put together an actors’ movie, driven by strong performances throughout. The screenplay by John J. McLaughlin (“Black Swan”), based upon a book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello, focuses on Hitchcock’s effort to put the now-classic “Psycho” on the screen.

During the 1950s, Hitchcock had directed several thrillers that had earned him the title “master of suspense”: “Strangers on a Train, “Dial M for Murder,” “To Catch a Thief,” “The Wrong Man,” “Vertigo” and “North by Northwest.” In addition he was hosting his weekly “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” program, one of the popular anthology series of the time like the “Twilight Zone” with different stories each week and in which he always had commercia-break tongue-in-cheek vignettes — Encore Suspense movie channel broadcasts these shows on weeknights.

Following the success of “North by Northwest,” Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) is on the prowl for new material. While his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren)  urges him to look at a book manuscript by her friend Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), a writer who penned many television series episodes like “Playhouse 90″ and “Have Gun, Will Travel,” Hitchcock discovers the novel “Psycho” by Robert Bloch, a story of a deranged killer that was inspired by real-life mass murderer Ed Gein.

While Alma very reluctantly endorses this effort, Paramount Studios, with which Hitchcock was contracted, dismisses “Psycho” as being a cheap horror flick and refuses to finance it. So Hitchcock, supported by his agent Lew Wasserman (Michael Stuhlbarg), opts to put up the money himself, mortgaging his spacious home in the process. He and Wasserman then set up just a distributing deal with Paramount.

Hitchcock hires Joseph Stefano (Ralph Maccio in a brief but memorable scene) to adapt the novel to the screen. Stefano, who wrote some “Outer Limits” episodes, is seen as a fidgety man with his own psychological issues, mostly surrounding his mother.

Stories of Hitchcock’s obsessions with his leading ladies were well known, and this is touched upon in the movie. At Alma’s suggestion, he casts Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) in the pivotal role of Marion Crane. At the time Leigh was married to Tony Curtis and had two children (Jamie Lee was just a baby when filming began in November 1959). In “Hitchcock,” the relationship between the director and Leigh is shown as being very cordial and one of mutual respect, with Leigh not having to endure any of the psychological torment Hitchcock was reputed to have inflicted upon his young female stars. In one sweet scene, Leigh even gives Hitchcock a ride home in her little Volkswagen Beetle.

The strained relationship in this movie centers around the director and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel), who plays Marion’s sister Lila Crane in “Psycho.” Miles had worked with Hitchcock before in “The Wrong Man” and Hitchcock had aspirations of making her a major star, but she opted for marriage and family — yet still had a long career, including reprising her role as Lila in “Psycho II” in 1983. It was a testament to Hitchcock’s massive ego that he considered Miles’ life choices as a betrayal to him.

The emotional focus of “Hitchcock,” however, centers around the director’s relationship with Alma. They married in 1926, a union that lasted until his death in 1980. Mirren, who has earned Screen Actors Guild and  Golden Globes nominations for this role, portrays Alma as a firm foundation in their marriage. Her support of him was unwavering and she had to endure the constant uneasiness that had to peck away at her regarding Hitchcock’s more than professional interest in the young actresses he was directing.

In “Hitchcock,” Alma finds comfort in her friendship with Whitfield Cook, although as portrayed by Huston, the writer seems to have ulterior motives in his relationship with Alma. She has no intentions of initiating an affair with Cook, but her willingness to collaborate with him on a screenplay adaptation has Hitchcock suspicious.

Alma’s steadfast support of Hitchcock’s filming of “Psycho,” even to the point of writing revisions on the Stefano script, is heroic and certainly a test of her love for the man.

“Hitchcock” does veer off the path with a paranormal sub-story in which Hitchcock has mental encounters with Gein (Michael Wincott), who serves as sort of a creepy muse. These scenes are a mixed bag, as Wincott is riveting in the role. But the scenes disturb the flow of the movie.

The on-the-set scenes are fascinating for those of us who are interested in witnessing the pre-filming preparations. Of note are a few scenes featuring James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins. D’Arcy, who does resemble Perkins, absolutely nails Perkins in his mannerisms, and it is too bad he is not seen more in the movie. Interestingly, Andrew Garfield, the latest Peter Parker/Spider-Man, was going to be cast as Perkins, but his commitment to a stage production of “Death of a Salesman” forced him to give the role a pass.

Other aspects of the bringing “Psycho” to the screen are also covered in “Hitchcock,” such as the director knocking heads with the censors, led by Geoffrey Shurlock (Kurtwood Smith), the intense editing process as Alma collaborates with Hitchcock on cutting the film, the shooting and editing of the famous shower scene, Hitchcock’s reluctance at first to have music accompany the stabbing scene — thankfully he gave in, and the screeching violins as composed by Bernard Herrmann are now an iconic musical representation of bloody mayhem — and the publicity strategy initiated by Hitchcock — “Psycho” was the first movie of which nobody would be allowed into the theater after it had started.

“Hitchcock” at its core is a love story, recalling a lasting bond between two people who were strong and brilliant in their own right but were even better as a pair.

The movie is loaded with many wonderful moments — one scene in which Hitchcock, driven to the lobby by his anxiety at the premiere screening of “Psycho,” hears the audience reaction to the horrifying shower murder, is exceptional. Plus, the closing scene is a witty homage to the epilogues that Hitchcock appeared in on his television programs.

“The Collector” has a very nasty hobby

Horror movies are a genre that has a much smaller fan base than action/adventure/sci-fi, but those who embrace such movies are loyal and very critical. They know what they want: the suspense, the terror, the jump-in-your-seat moments, the gore. Things like character development can go by the wayside, and although humor is allowed, it should be of the macabre variety.

“The Collection” is not playing to packed houses, but those who do attend expect a grisly, unnerving trip, and there it is. The movie is a sequel to the 2009 slice-n-dice indulgence “The Collector.” There was a survivor in that movie, Arkin, and he is back, not necessarily  wanting for more, as he is forced to re-experience this mess.

“The Collector-Collection” movies have elements of the “Saw” franchise, which is to be expected, as writer-director Marcus Dunstan and his collaborator Patrick Melton guided that latter three “Saw” films, V, VI and 3D. Unlike Jigsaw of the “Saw” series, who went after people whom he saw as worthy of punishment and put them through physical and psychological torture, “The Collection” features a silent killer with a full-head mask, like something out of Luche Libre, whose motives are unknown.

“The Collection” begins with a jolting scene in which a man, Mr. Peters (Christopher McDonald), apparently just widowed, is trying to comfort his young daughter Elena, promising to be there to care for her. Then their vehicle gets T-boned and everything goes black. Next there is a montage of grim visuals and sound bytes of news reports on the mysterious disappearances of dozens of people, apparently abducted by the same person, a crime spree that supposedly has the entire city opting to stay home and secured inside.

Among those missing is Arkin (Josh Stewart), who had his run-in with the collector in the 2009 film. Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick) now appears, having grown into a young woman. She is at home when she receives a phone call from her boyfriend, who claims he cannot see her this night because he has to work. She knows he’s lying but she cuts him slack. Next, she receives a call from Missy (Johanna Braddy), the typical bad-influence friend who talks Elena into going to a party. Elena sneaks out easily as Dad is snoozing in the living room.

Missy drives them to a party in an old warehouse, one of those crowded, noisy affairs, where Elena, naturally, runs into her boyfriend smooching with another woman. This is the extent of the Elena story, just enough to make her sympathetic. But Elena has little time to vent tears. This party suddenly turns into slaughterhouse, thanks to the collector.

One of the draws of such explicit horror films is the different and creative ways people are dispatched, and the collector’s mode of wiping out a roomful of partying young people indicates he could have channeled his energies into developing harvesting equipment.

Before the killfest ensues, Elena seeks privacy in a room where she encounters a trunk that obviously has someone locked inside. She opens it and out spills Arkin, who is a bloody mess. Having endured the collector’s sadistic shenanigans, Arkin is bent on escaping and while he makes his getaway amid the mass murder, the collector seizes Elena, stuffs her into a trunk and transports her away.

The hospitalized Arkin finds himself not dealing with police, but with a squad of mercenary operatives, hired by Peters and led by Lucello (Lee Tergesen), who force Arkin to take them to the collector’s headquarters, which of course turns out to be an old abandoned hotel. Arkin warns Lucello that the place is booby-trapped throughout and although initially promised he could walk away once he gains the group access inside the old building, Arkin learns that Lucello is reneging on the deal, forcing the man to tag along to help them locate Elena.

The young woman, meanwhile, has been resourceful enough to liberate herself from the trunk and is attempting to negotiate an escape.

So the blueprint is laid out. Elena is trying to break out of the building without being impaled or piecemealed by the various sharp-edged traps the collector has set. Meanwhile, Lucello and his squad, and the reluctant Arkin, also face certain death if they do not watch what they are doing in their search for Elena. Oh, and the collector also is stomping around, not too happy Elena has slipped away.

The artistry of horror movies such as “The Collection” is in the special effects, which are pulled off despite some very small budgets. Articles in horror genre magazines like Horrorhound, Rue Morgue and Fangoria often delve into the creative ways FX people recreate such gruesome scenes.

Horror films can explore psychological terror and phobias. They can chill with their suspense and exploit fear of the unknown. Or they can, like “The Collection,” just hammer the viewers with overt terror. Those who opt for these kind of no-holds-barred visual assaults should not be disappointed by “The Collection.”

“Killing Them Softly”: When bad guys go after bad guys

You know you are dealing with some really bad people when the most admirable character in the story is a mob enforcer.

Welcome to “Killing Them Softly,” the third directorial effort from Andrew Dominik, who previously presented “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” and “Chopper.”

People who have seen those two films will be acquainted with Dominik’s gritty, uncompromisingly violent style, and “Killing Them Softly” does not soften this approach.

Dominik adapted “Killing” for the screen, based upon the novel “Coogan’s Trade” by George V. Higgins, known for his critically acclaimed 1973 novel “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.”

It is said that the most damaging way for an entity to unravel is from within, and that’s what gives “Killing” its essence. Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) runs mob-protected card games and at one time came upon a plan to have his own games robbed — seriously hurting the organized crime economy — at a nice personal profit for himself. Markie essentially got away with it, as no hard evidence pointed to him — however, on the streets the consensus was that he planned the robbery. And later, Markie boasts about pulling off the crime.

So, a few years later, an underworld guy named Johnny “Squirrel” Amato (Vincent Curatola) hatches a plan to have Markie’s games robbed again. This second robbery ostensibly will frame Trattman as the guilty party, the conclusion being that if Markie pulled it off once, he likely would do it again. Squirrel and his cohorts then pocket the money and skate away free.

Squirrel hires an ex-con, Frankie (Scoot McNairy), to do the robbery, and Frankie enlists the help of the drug-addled Russell (Ben Mendelsohn), much to the vehement protests of Squirrel. Nevertheless, the two manage to pull off the robbery.

At first the scheme appears to work. However, the mob, again rattled by economic upheaval, brings in its top enforcer, Jackie Coogan (Brad Pitt). Jackie has in-car conferences with a liaison only known as Driver (Richard Jenkins) where they discuss strategies to clean up this latest mess.

Jackie sends two goons to rough up Markie and get a confession. Markie is brutally beaten (viewer warning — this is a vicious attack) but cannot rat anyone out because he has no knowledge of who was behind the robbery.

Watching Jackie in action triggers memories of the scene in “The Fifth Element” when Jean-Baptists Emanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman) talks about the kind of person he likes: “A killer. A dyed-in-the-wool killer; cold-blooded, clean, methodical and thorough.”

Such is Jackie. Although concluding that Markie may have been innocent this time, Jackie insists Markie be taken down, if nothing else to restore order to the card games branch of the operations.

“Killing them softly” is what Jackie calls his method of elimination. He prefers to kill from a distance, with the target getting no warning, rather than a face-to-face encounter that leads to begging, crying and messiness.

As expected, the foggy-brained Russell proves unreliable in keeping his mouth shut and soon Jackie has zeroed in on Squirrel and Frankie.

Pitt exudes a cool confidence as Jackie. He is cold-blooded and methodical, and his work is as clean as can be expected with bullets doing all the damage.

James Gandolfini makes a brief appearance as a throwaway character, Mickey, a financially struggling hitman Jackie imports to help with the contracts but who proves useless, holing up in a hotel and partying.

None of the characters in this story deserves sympathy. They are law-breakers and greedy and foolish. Pitt’s Jackie does command respect. He is good at what he does, and does not apologize for it. In the end, when he find he is been underpaid, he simply but firmly tells Driver to get him his money. And you know he will get it.

“Killing Them Softly” is a brutal movie. It exposes a nasty underbelly of the human condition and challenges the viewer to follow along. Thanks to Pitt’s cold-hearted but charismatic Jackie, it is a shuddering but memorable experience.

Key December birthdays:

Turning 40: Jude Law, 12/29

45: Jamie Foxx, 12/13; Mo’Nique, 12/11

50: Ralph Fiennes, 12/22

55: Steve Buscemi, 12/13; Ray Romano, 12/21

60: Susan Dey, 12/10; Tovah Feldsuh, 12/27

65: Ben Cross, 12/16; Ted Danson, 12/29; Tim Matheson, 12/31

70: Mike Nesmith, 12/30; Fred Ward, 12/30

75: Jane Fonda, 12/21; Anthony Hopkins, 12/31; Paul Stookey, 12/30