The real curiosity about the movie Jack Reacher is not about the plot or or the action; it’s about the star.
Can Tom Cruise, not known for his height or his brawn, slip into the shoes of Jack Reacher, described in Lee Child’s novels as 6' 5" tall with a 50-inch chest, and weighing between 210 and 250 pounds?
Well. . .Cruise may play Jack Reacher, but he is no Jack Reacher.
And it is not because physically Cruise doesn’t resemble the Reacher described in the novels.
Granted, movies have a history of those rather short of stature playing bigger than life heroes. Alan Ladd, at 5 feet-6 inches, is about the same height as Cruise, but no one sat higher in the saddle than he did in Shane. (Ladd’s height has been reported to be anywhere from 5-5 to 5-9 with 5-6 being the most accepted.)
It’s not the lack of height that shortens the appeal of Cruise as Reacher.
It’s Cruise himself, and the script.
His personal oddities aside, I generally like Cruise as an actor. He has proven himself to be a decent action hero as Ethan Hunt in the Mission Impossible series and as a man caught up in situations beyond his control in The Firm and A Few Good Men. As a romantic lead, he’s had me at hello in Jerry Maguire and Top Gun. He’s even shown he has a sense of humor and can riff off his image in Tropic Thunder and Rock of Ages. And we sometimes forget that Cruise can be a really good actor as witnessed in The Color of Money and Born on the Fourth of July.
His performance isn’t bad and often is entertaining, but he should not be in this role.
But, Cruise brings nothing new to the role, no nuance, no reason to make those unfamiliar with Child’s novels understand why they are like the crack cocaine of mystery fiction. He is simply Tom Cruise delivering the kind of performance that has worked time and again for him.
Entertaining? Yes? Nuanced? No.
Cruise is playing dress up; he is saying the right things and trying to act like the hero. But it is difficult to buy him as Reacher, even in the scene where he is shirtless.
It’s as if Ethan Hunt from the MI franchise went undercover as Jack Reacher. Any moment he will take off his mask to reveal he is. . . Tom Cruise!
It would have been better to cast an unknown as Jack Reacher, an actor who could make us believe in this character and who would find himself in a star-making role.
But Cruise brings in the big bucks. And that is what counts.
But Jack Reacher ’s shortfall isn’t totally Cruise’s fault.
Spread some of the blame to writer and director Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, The Tourist).
On the page, Child’s drifter-hero mixes the thriller with an old-fashioned western. With his military police background, Reacher knows how to clean up a town, and when to leave. True, there is a formula to the books but it is a formula that is invisible and works every time.
On the screen, that formula overwhelms nearly every scene. Jack Reacher isn’t a bad thriller film, but it’s one we’ve seen way too many times and the predictability blares too loudly.
If you have seen any of the Die Hards, the Bournes or any James Bond films, then you have seen Jack Reacher .
We’ve seen the car chases, the action clichés and we’ve heard the dialogue before, too, though snatches of it are quite clever. And I do want to give mad props to one car chase that doesn't appear to use any computer graphics.
Jack Reacher is based on Child’s 2005 novel One Shot, the ninth in his series.
Evidence points to James Barr, a former military sniper, in the shooting of five people. Reacher has different ideas. Taking a job as an investigator for the accused man’s defense attorney, Reacher comes up against a hired killer and a Russian called “the Zec.”
British actress Rosamund Pike plays the defense attorney and director Werner Herzog gives a turn as a Russian mobster. Both have done better work, as has Robert Duvall who plays the cantankerous owner of a gun range. Look for Lee Child playing a silent desk sergeant.
There are many differences between the novel One Shot and Jack Reacher , none of which add or detract from the story. In the novel, the action takes place in Indiana. The movie moves the action to Pittsburgh; Barr’s sister and a TV reporter who help Reacher are missing.
Jack Reacher features a lot of violence, shootings and fighting. I wish someone could explain to me how this was rated PG-13 and the comedy This Is 40 is rated R (for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material.)
Will Jack Reacher interest new readers to Child’s novels? I hope so. Because then those who are unfamiliar with the novels would know what the fuss over Reacher is really all about.
Jack Reacher is rated PG-13: Violence, some drug material and language. Running time 2 hours, 10 minutes.
Photos: Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher, top two photos. Cruise with Lee Child and Rosamund Pike. Cruise with Robert Duvall. Photos from Paramount Pictures