In many ways, Tom Cruise never escaped the fallout from that infamous 2005 ride on Oprah’s couch. His box office returns have gradually slipped and the sheen of “Scientology Weirdo” still hangs around him in the public mind. It’s quite unfair because 1) the man’s private life is still his own business and 2) the quality of his films in recent years has been quite good. From his brilliant cameo in Tropic Thunder to the slick thrills of Valkyrie and the unexpected triumph of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, he’s pretty much firing on all cylinders these days… despite comparatively poor box office. Jack Reacher is a sad testament to the bind he finds himself in: a smart, intelligent action thriller that got lost amid bad timing. The Blu-ray release is a perfect opportunity to catch what you probably missed. Hit the jump for my full review.
Cruise’s character stems from the mind of author Lee Child: a rough-and-tumble Englishman born of equal parts Tom Clancy and Mickey Spillane. Reacher himself is a former MP, who dropped off the grid after his discharge and now lives life as a ghost. He withdraws his military pension via Western Union in cash, travels only by bus or hitchhiking, and buys anything he needs off the rack. He emerges from anonymity after a sniper he once tracked is accused of a horrific crime. The charges smell fishy and while the man’s defense attorney (a very effective Rosamund Pike) doesn’t necessarily want Reacher’s help, he’s too good at what he does to turn down.
The path leads through predictable territory: a vast conspiracy full of shadowy figures who use the sniper as a random patsy. But Jack Reacher transcends it through its crackerjack attention to detail. Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (who won an Oscar for The Usual Suspects) brings a lot of intelligence to what could have been nothing more than alpha dog posturing. The clues to the mystery all make sense, both in the way they connect to the larger crime and the way the culprits have covered their tracks. McQuarrie punctuates the cat-and-mouse game with plenty of hard-hitting action (in which Cruise’s Reacher invariably emerges triumphant), but that too is infused with clever and insightful logic. We understand why Reacher can beat five guys to a pulp without breaking a sweat; most movies of this ilk just claim he can do it and let us watch. By investing the action with such mechanics, McQuarrie makes us care about the outcome far more than a lesser movie might.
The same holds true with Cruise himself, who always does best when walking down the dark side of the street. His Reacher is a borderline sociopath, reined in by a tightly held moral philosophy, but unconcerned with the sometimes messy steps required to defend it. A more insecure star would use the character as a pure ego-fest: raging against diminished fame with a self-indulgent bad ass that might very well end his career. But Cruise knows better. He’s not afraid to show flashes of absurdity in the character’s make-up, and he earns our loyalty through charisma and verve instead of just taking it for granted. The balance works exceptionally well, moving Jack Reacher to the upper echelons of pseudo-military thrillers.
A few bumps crop up every now and then, particularly the finale which abandons all intelligence in favor of a contrived fistfight. But they’re too infrequent to garner much attention and the remainder of the film reminds us that smart storytelling still has a place in big studio productions. Jack Reacher caught a bad break on its release date, when the Sandy Hook Massacre made this kind of entertainment too harsh for a nation in need of some gentleness. The Blu-ray release gives it a chance to be rediscovered, and hopefully find a few more well-deserved fans.
For a perceived flop, the Blu-ray is actually fairly substantial. Paramount spares no expense in getting the sound and video quality perfect these days . Cruise and McQuarrie unite for a fun audio commentary that aptly demonstrates their working chemistry, while a second audio commentary focuses on the work of composer Joe Kramer. Three behind-the-scenes features cover the process of adaptation, the fight choreography and the character’s roots. It makes for a solid (though not overwhelming) package well worth the price of purchase.