He May Be Short, but He Moves Well: Tom Cruise’s ‘Jack Reacher’

When you saw the great trailers or ungodly awful posters for Jack Reacher last winter, one of two thoughts popped into your brain.:

1. “Oh boy! Another Tom Cruise action movie!”

or

2. “Oh boy! They finally made a movie about Lee Pace’s Jack Reacher!”

Whether or not that was your exact inflection (haters can insert periods where the exclamation marks are), odds are you were ‘in’ or ‘out’ based on the man with his name above the name of the other man. Wait. That’s confusing. What if…no. Ok, I’ll just skip it. I’m talking about Tom Cruise.

Fans of the actor were most likely immediately jacked up for an all new action/adventure with their favorite leading man. At the very least, they were excited to see Cruise paired with Days of Thunder costar Robert Duvall. Fans of the Lee Pace’s novels, however, may have initially been excited to see their favorite Army detective depicted on the big screen, but then their hopes were dashed when the dark-haired, svelte-bodied, shorter-than-they-thought Cruise was named as the title character.

“He’s not tall enough,” screamed the purists. “He’s not blonde,” cried the Germans. Outrage settled into their bones, and many were never able to overcome their bias against the vertically-challenged thespian. Yet the real reason everyone was bothered by Cruise playing a former U.S. Army Major wasn’t that he’s a tad shy of the 6’5’’, 220lb behemoth described in the books. It’s because it’s Tom Cruise, and some people just don’t like him.

Not a fan of discrimination in any shape or form, I approached the film version of Mr. Reacher with a blank slate. As a fan of the actor (note how I used “actor” and not “man”), I was more than willing to believe Cruise as a legitimate threat to anyone’s physical well-being because, well, I’d seen all his other movies. No one questions whether or not he could kick the crap out of baddies in Mission: Impossible 1-5. Why question his badassery now? And make no doubt about it—Cruise is one incredible badass as Jack Reacher.

Based on and originally titled after the novel One Shot, Jack Reacher follows our All-American hero as he investigates a sniper accused of murdering five seemingly random people. The opening scene of the film is actually quite unnerving for a patriotic rabble-rouser like this. Shot in almost complete silence, we watch helplessly as a man parks his van, sets up his rifle, and picks off five innocent civilians before speeding away to freedom. Police are quickly on the case, and a suspect is apprehended within hours. He claims he’s innocent, but only utters two words in his defense: Jack. Reacher.

Enter our hero, the quick-witted, dryly comic, ultra-observant Reacher is like an American Sherlock Holmes with an axe to grind and without the permanent residence on Baker Street. You see, Reacher’s a drifter. He lives out of motel rooms as he criss-crosses our great nation on whatever mission he sees fit. He has only the clothes on his back, and even those were bought from Goodwill.

Director Christopher McQuarrie captures Reacher’s loner spirit in a series of shots from behind our star’s iconic visage. We see Reacher go about his matter-of-fact business before showing up in the Pittsburgh District Attorney’s office demanding to see James Barr. It’s a fantastic star turn for one of the few true movie stars we have left, and it sets the deliberate pace of the film perfectly.

Clocking in at 130 minutes, Jack Reacher is far from a lean and mean thrill ride. While the story certainly made that an option, McQuarrie and Cruise recognize the calm in Reacher and incorporate it into the film’s mentality. Very rarely does Reacher get too riled up. Rather, he walks with a measured gait. He observes silently, speaking rarely. The story shifts from bursts of action—including a particularly well-choreographed chase scene—to long stretches of investigation and obtuse interactions with police officers, attorneys, thugs, and the general public.

In this sense, they could not have chosen a better actor than Cruise. Though his incredible running form has been chronicled for years, many have failed to recognize the man’s ability to control every muscle in his body with the utmost precision. Perhaps stemming from early criticism of his manic (and constant) movements, Cruise has now become a master of mobility. He can shift from being completely still to a dashing off in a sprint in an instant, but even more impressive are his clearly calculated and blocked movements. Before the above-mentioned chase sequence ensues, Reacher slowly reaches down to his gear shift without moving his eyes from the detective staring him down. His hand moves in a steady gliding motion to the shift before ripping it into reverse and tearing out of the parking lot.

Cruise’s control matches perfectly with the slowly-rising tension in the scene, and there’s simply no way its an accident. Though certainly aided by editing, once you notice Cruise’s skill its hard to avoid for the rest of the film. It’s clear in his hand-to-hand fight scenes both outside a bar and during the film’s rain-soaked climax. It pops up again when he’s challenged at a shooting range. It’s even evident when Cruise is simply strolling from down the sidewalk.

Now, if none of this sounds appealing to you, there’s also Werner Herzog as the finger-eating head fiend, Robert Duvall as a kooky old rifleman, and Richard Jenkins as the “Is he good or bad?” boss to Rosamund Pike’s assistant D.A. Pike is the only weak point in the otherwise stellar cast. Her blank stare and long pauses do her no favors, especially when she’s playing against the sharp-minded Reacher/effortlessly charming Cruise. Still, Jack Reacher proves itself to be more than just your average action flick in its performances and execution.

All of the performers show up for the Blu-ray combo pack’s special features. The first, a 26-minute behind-the-scenes doc, features thorough interviews with Tom Cruise, Christopher McQuarrie, and Lee Child. Even Werner Herzog and Robert Duvall pop up for interviews. The half-hour making-of breaks down everything from how the film got started to the expected backlash surround Cruise’s casting. McQuarrie claims he’d never have found an actor who met the physical requirements described by the author, and Child agrees. Still, the most fun was hearing how Herzog dieted for the role using “the simplest diet of them all. Just eat less.”

Next up is a ten-minute examination of the fighting styles and weapons used in the film. Cruise and McQuarrie also pop up here, and both are featured on the first of two commentary tracks during the film (the other is from composer Joe Kraemer). The last featurette, though, may be the most treasured by fans of the franchise. “The Reacher Phenomenon” is 11 minutes of author Lee Child discussing his character, his process, and his fans. It’s simply cut together, but effective and revealing for anyone interested.

The movie should register in a similar fashion. Even if you’re not a fan of the lead actor, there’s too much here not to find something you like. Whether it’s the talented up-and-comer David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog’s vicious villain, the aggressive action pieces, or simply our hero’s snarky attitude, Jack Reacher is an extremely effective adaptation–even if it’s not the one you pictured in your mind.

RATING 7 / 10
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