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Movie Review: JACK REACHER

January 8, 2013

Remember when movies used to have titles? When they were actually descriptive and interesting and not just the name of the main character you’d never heard of?

Sigh. I miss those days.

In the titling spirit of JOHN CARTER and ALEX CROSS, somebody decided to call this flick JACK REACHER instead of ONE SHOT, the title of the book on which it was based. I don’t want to harp on the title this whole time, but I do think titles like this hamper a film’s ability to attract the general audience’s interest. I could be wrong — it looks like it’s doing fine at the box office — but I think it could be doing better if people had any sense of what the movie was about, its tone, or anything at all from the film’s title, its equally-generic poster, or its by-the-numbers trailer.

At any rate, I’m pleased to report that the title is my biggest gripe with the film. Otherwise, JACK REACHER is a highly entertaining thriller, channeling the energy of a Dashiell Hammett/Raymond Chandler hardboiled detective story seamlessly into contemporary times. It’s not a throwback to THE BIG SLEEP, THE MALTESE FALCON, or CHINATOWN* so much as a (highly worthy) successor to that kind of mystery story.

In a Sherlock Holmes mystery, Sherlock solves the crime seemingly by magic, only afterward describing the clues his keen senses and intellect registered and which Watson missed. But since Watson was our narrator, the fact he missed those clues means we as the reader never heard about them until Sherlock mentioned, after the fact, they were there. We never had the chance to try to solve the mystery ourselves.

The other way to do it is to be in the mind of the detective himself, getting all the clues as he does and being able to put them together alongside him. JACK REACHER is this kind of mystery story, giving you all the same pieces our man Jack has to work with, doling them out in such a way that he’s always just one step ahead of us without feeling like he’s jumping wildly to unjustifiably correct conclusions.

Obviously to discuss the plot of a mystery is to ruin a lot of the fun, so I’ll refrain there, other than to say the villain’s motivation…doesn’t make a ton of sense. Which is okay, really, because it’s just the McGuffin and the fun is seeing how Reacher discovers the truth.

Whatever you may think of Tom Cruise in terms of his personal life choices, he’s capital-Tom capital-Cruise for a reason, and as always he’s compelling to watch in every scene. He and Rosamund Pike have great chemistry, and the film possesses exactly the kind of personality and wit so often lacking from the over-serious, melodramatic tentpoles of recent years. Reacher is a fascinating badass without a dark past he’s always sulking over, which was a breath of fresh air.

I also like a lot about the way director Christopher McQuarrie staged this film, particularly the action scenes. He makes them feel properly frenetic and chaotic without resorting to the shakycam crutch so often used to hide the fact the director hasn’t bothered to stage anything coherent at all, managing even to inject some humor into the action. (One action beat descends into almost pure slapstick, but the movie gets away with it because Reacher is as astonished by the absurdity as we are.) McQuarrie also knows when not to go for the thrill and dial up the suspense instead, a skill I think a lot of action directors (and screenwriters) seem to lack.

If you’re like me and the lame title put you off bothering to so much as find out what JACK REACHER even is, do yourself a favor and check it out. It is more clever and original than the marketing would have you believe, engages your brain without being exhausting, and is well worth your two hours.

* Which I guess today would be released as PHILIP MARLOWE, SAM SPADE and JAKE GITTES, respectively. Oh, Hollywood.

One Comment
  1. Couldn’t disagree more. Especially with the “original” descriptor. But then you didn’t grow up watching action films like this in the eighties, so perhaps it’s simply that I can’t see the tree for the forrest.

    But I do find it amusing that, at least for you, a good film is hiding behind a terrible title, an equally-generic poster and a by-the-numbers trailer. It’s usually the opposite. For me, those were all accurate reflections of the film.

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