Jack Reacher is about as generic as action heroes get. He is every male fantasy made flesh–Bruce Lee, Dirty Harry, and James Bond rolled into one Tom Cruise-shaped package. Women want him. His enemies fear him. And lawmen resent him, for he is willing to break every rule and regulation in the book (as well as a few skulls) to ensure that the shadowy villains are brought to justice.
The mystery/thriller plot at the center of Christopher McQuarrie’s Jack Reacher (an adaptation of the Lee Child novel One Shot) is also fairly cookie cutter. A heinous crime is committed. The evidence leads to one obvious conclusion… but obscures a darker truth. The hero digs deeper, uncovering corruption, conspiracies, and cover-ups. Each new lead brings another assassination attempt, another innocent casualty, another frame-up, gradually building towards an explosive climactic shootout, with the life of a hostage hanging in the balance.
This bare bones synopsis makes Jack Reacher sound a lot like Rob Cohen’s abysmal Alex Cross (released earlier this year), but the execution sets the two films leagues apart. McQuarrie is a superb craftsman, telling the rather routine story with simplicity and elegance. His efficient, methodical approach to shooting the fight scenes complements the protagonist’s brutal combat style, and his stylistic restraint produces one of the most tense, engaging car chases in recent memory (eclipsed only by Drive’s unforgettable opening sequence). The minute the director invited me to view his cinematic world through the sniper scope of a cold, cruel, calculating killer, I was hooked; from the shooter’s heavy, rhythmic breathing to his lingering gaze as he considers his targets, those first five minutes are voyeuristic, chilling, and absolutely arresting.
In short: although Jack Reacher’s general lack of real substance and originality left me a bit underwhelmed, McQuarrie’s full and effortless command of his art form blew me away. I look forward to seeing what he brings to the Mission: Impossible franchise.
[Originally written December 24, 2012.]