Okay, I've read a few Reacher novels and whilst they ain't high art, they are, like James Patterson's Alex Cross novels, tightly plotted, capably written page turners that plunge a tough but likeable, lethal but intelligent lead character into a hard-boiled detective mystery that pits their wits and brawn against any number of sociopathic criminal masterminds.
Reacher's ex-military police. As James Barr (played by Joseph Sikora) explains in the movie: "He's a kind of cop... He doesn't care about proof, he doesn't care about the law, he only cares about what's right." So he's like Nolan's Batman... only shorter. Yeah ok, I've read the books. I know Reacher is described as tall. But then Patterson describes Alex Cross as looking like Denzel Washington - and who did we get? The simply miscast Morgan Freeman in the 90s, and the simply dreadful Tyler Perry this year. Remember how the fans of Anne Rice's 'Interview with the Vampire' moaned when Neil Jordan cast Cruise as the tall, blonde vampire Lestat? But Tom wasn't so bad (in fact Anne Rice wrote him an apology having criticised his casting so vociferously at first).
It never ceases to amaze me how much passionate hatred Thomas Cruise Mapother IV evokes in so many film fans. There's the "he can't act" brigade - but then what about Oliver Stone's 'Born on the Fourth of July'? The Cruiser's performance as Ron Kovic is pretty hard to slam. And what about 'Magnolia'? Love or hate Paul Thomas Anderson's movie (and I love it), Cruise's performance as Frank T.J. Mackey is a superb character portrait. So, for me at least, Tom, like Bruce Willis, can act - but seldom chooses to bother, seeing as the vast sums of cash on offer for mega-blockbusters requires only that he run fast, take off his shirt, grin occasionally and wink whilst clutching a submachine gun... In fact, come to think of it, you could level pretty much the same accusations at Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson and Chris Walken these days... Anyway, I've long ago given up saying the Cruise can't act.
He's a movie star, so he seldom acts. There's a difference.
As for the "but, he's short" brigade? So's Al Pacino. So's Peter Dinklage - by far my favourite in 'Game of Thrones'. So's Inch High Private Eye. So what? Ok so, if you can get over Tom being short and accept that it's a stretch for him to play Reacher (three puns, one sentence - oh yeah!) - he's fine. But the real star here is McQuarrie's script, which is taught, tight and full of tremendous zingers - such as when Reacher informs the bad guy's henchman, Charlie (played convincingly by Jai Courtney who's soon to be seen as Bruce Willis' son in 'A Good Day to Die Hard'): "I mean to beat you to death and drink your blood from my boot." Or when a store clerk asks to see his ID, saying: "I need to see something," Reacher replies: "How about the inside of an ambulance?" Or when a young girl, Sandy (actress, Alexia Fast) says she's happy to watch a gang of thugs beat Reacher up, saying: "I don't mind the sight of blood," Reacher replies: "Well, it means you're not pregnant anyway..." C'mon! Those are great comebacks, worthy of Black's lines for Bruce in 'The Last Boy Scout.'
Like Tony Scott's 'The Last Boy Scout,' it's not just the dialogue that zings - but the direction too. But unlike Scott's showy, hyper-edited MTV style, McQuarrie's all business, handling the requisite shoot-outs, car-chases and mano-a-mano brawling with a clarity that's refreshingly easy to follow yet gritty - in a no-nonsense style reminiscent of Peter Yates' seminal Steve McQueen action flick, 'Bullit.'
For those worried they'd get the gurning, over-the-top Cruise of 'Rock of Ages' or 'Knight and Day' - fear not - this is the pared-down, laid-back in-service-of-the-narrative Cruise of Michael Mann's 'Collateral' or Steven Spielberg's 'Minority Report' - all business; all restraint. The supporting cast are great too, from Rosamund Pike as leading lady Helen; Richard Jenkins as her senator father; David Oyelowo as the cop Emerson, and Robert Duvall as the wily owner of a gun range. But the standout for me is German director Werner Herzog as the villain Zec - who receives a woefully brief amount of screentime. For my money, he should have had a far larger onscreen presence because, well, Werner was Wunderbar as the cold as ice baddie who'd chew his own fingers off to survive - literally.
Herzog's limited screentime and a misjudged slapstick scene (in which two bad guys ineptly hit one another whilst attempting to attack Tom in a bathtub) aside, 'Jack Reacher' is a pretty darn satisfying adult thriller of the bad ass variety. There's a bit of detection, action, comedy and brutality all thrown into the mix and, for the most part, it works pretty well, coming off as a well-made version of all those Steven Segal, Jean Claude Van Damme and Wesley Snipes movies you get in bargain bins at DVD stores for $2.99.
So sorry Cruise-haters, but Tom fails to come up short and doesn't overreach as Reacher. In fact he's to be congratulated on reviving the directorial career of Christopher McQuarrie who, after 11-years, returns to the directors chair to deliver a solid adult action thriller. Kudos Mr. Cruise :)