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.