“Hell you say.” – Robert Duvall as Cash
My wife is a HUGE fan of Lee Child‘s books. She refuses to buy them in hardcover, though, so ever year or so, she spends several months in a state of literary tension, aware that there is a new Jack Reacher story out there yet unable to partake of of it. Her discomfort every time we go into a bookstore during this waiting period is palpable. It really is a site to behold, but it’s indicative of the kind of fans Child has. Everyone I’ve known who likes his books LOVES his books. The only other author I’ve seen exhibit that kind of devotion is Stephen King. These books are not like King’s. I’ve read exactly two of them, his 1997 debut, The Killing Floor, and the book this film is based on, One Shot. They’re pulpy, full of tough guys doing tough things, but they just didn’t speak to me in a way that made me want to devour the whole series the way my wife has. As someone who’s read the whole series, though, and invested hundreds of hours in this world of an ex-Army MP turned crime-fighting drifter, she definitely had some ideas about what our protagonist should look like and Tom Cruise was nowhere in the ballpark. He was such an oddball choice that she refused to see the movie in theaters. I had to wait for it to come out on Blu-ray and then wait for her to be out of town for the weekend before I could watch it. I’m happy to report it was well worth the wait.
It’s hard to describe what this film is other than to say it’s an action film from the late eighties/early nineties but with a decidedly 21st century sensibility. Think of it as Roadhouse without the Tai Chi, or Above the Law without the Aikido, or even Lethal Weapon without Danny Glover (he’s getting too old for this shit). As a writer Christopher McQuarrie has always done a great job with dialog, and this is no exception. The witty back and forth of The Usual Suspects is here, and Cruise does a great job delivering it. True, his not-so-vague threats would be even more menacing delivered by the 6′ 5″, 250 pound Reacher of the novels, but coming from 5′ 7″ Tom Cruise, they have an added punch, a humorous cockiness that belies his diminutive stature. He spends the better part of the film beating the piss out of men much larger than he is, cracking wise the whole time. This is an exceptionally funny movie, with most of the jokes coming from Reacher’s attitude toward the toughs he encounters. I laughed out loud when, just before he beats another bad guy into submission, he looks him dead in the eyes and says, with more than a little malice, “Remember, you wanted this.” There are subtle visual jokes here as well, like when two guys with bats try to beat Reacher and end up doing more damage to themselves. Or when our hero rolls into a nondescript local business and the sign outside reads DeFault Auto Parts, a reference to the fact that no one ever mentions the name of the town even though it was quite obviously filmed in Pittsburgh.
This is only McQuarrie’s second outing as a director, after the criminally under-seen The Way of the Gun, and it’s easy to see why he was chosen for the upcoming Mission: Impossible 5. The car chases are very well done, combining fast and slow sections that made it easy to keep track of where everyone was in relation to one another, a quality missing in many lesser films. The fight scenes were even better, especially one near the end that seemed like an homage to the 1987 Riggs-Joshua bout.
One thing I didn’t enjoy about the film was the relative dearth of Werner Herzog (yes, that Werner Herzog). He was certainly creepy here as a Russian gangster who’s missing a few fingers as well as concern for his fellow man. He’s only in the film for around ten minutes, though, and I’d like to have seen more. Apart from that, though, this really was an enjoyable film I’m looking forward to seeing again. I can’t decide if I want to wait until the next time the missus is out of town or if it might just magically appear on the video shelf at the house one day soon.
Jack Reacher is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray.