December 20, 2012


It’s almost difficult to remember what a hard-boiled, stripped-down, old-fashioned action-thriller looks like.  We’ve become so reliant on CG for our action and jump-scares for our thrills that we forget solid action-thrillers don’t need to rely on gigantic budgets or creepy mysteries to make an impact.  Jack Reacher is that confident action thriller we’ve been missing.  Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie has created a film that almost feels like a throwback in its confident plotting and attitude.  Furthermore, Tom Cruise once again reminds us that we can never underestimate his acting talent, and while he may not share the physicality of the character in the book, the attitude remains.

Retired military sniper James Barr (Joseph Sikora) stands accused of murdering five innocent people in broad daylight.  The crime scene easily leads to his arrest, but during his interrogation, he writes down the statement, “Get Jack Reacher”.  Reacher (Cruise) is a former military investigator-turned-drifter who describes his wanderlust as an addiction.  Barr’s request piques Reacher’s curiosity since he knows Barr committed cold-blooded murders during the war, but escaped on a technicality.  With the help of Barr’s lawyer Helen (Rosamund Pike), Reacher’s hunt for answers puts him in the crosshairs of dangerous assassin Charlie (Jai Courtney) and his boss, the Zec (Werner Herzog).


Jack Reacher is a welcome surprise in many ways.  McQuarrie doesn’t make any overt attempts to echo previous films in the genre or highlight how his movie is refreshingly old-fashioned.  Instead, he ties in the direction to the personality of his protagonist.  Reacher is based on the book One Shot by Lee Child, and Child’s series describes the character as 6’5″ and able to bear-hug a man to death.  Obviously, Tom Cruise doesn’t have that physique, so it’s up to McQuarrie and his star to convey that muscle without showing muscles.  Instead, the filmmaker and star play to the toughness of Reacher’s personality.

In the book, Reacher is a smart, no-nonsense soldier with a sharp sense of humor.  He’s not constantly cracking jokes, but he doesn’t have a stick up his ass.  McQuarrie follows suit with a movie that ditches flourishes and flashy effects for straightforward fisticuffs and a terrific car chase that’s more of a clever cat-and-mouse rather than a race.  It’s a remarkably surefooted accomplishment for McQuarrie, who hasn’t directed a movie since 2000′s The Way of the Gun.  Whereas Gun felt like it was trying too hard to be hip and stylish, Reacher knows exactly what it wants to be and does it with conviction.


The other revelation is Cruise, although I’m not sure how he keeps surprising me.  Cruise has had a remarkably versatile career even though his main action persona is the guy who’s smarter than everyone in the room but one who’s rarely imposing.  Cruise usually plays frustrated or clandestine characters, but his filmography consistently shows the chances he takes and how he’s succeeded.  We forget his powerful performances in Magnolia and Collateral because they’re not lead roles, but they’re among his best.  Fans of the book understandably underestimated Cruise, but they should be relieved that the spirit of the character is alive and well in Jack Reacher.  I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t find Cruise imposing enough to play a badass, but the film wisely sets Reacher up as someone who has no patience for bullshit.  Having laid out the character’s foundation, the movie is able to convince us that Cruise is capable of doling out some serious punishment.

Lee Child wrote an effective novel, and McQuarrie has stripped it down to its essential elements.  Even running at over two hours, Jack Reacher feels remarkably lean, and while it has no grand ambitions, it successfully commits to its task.  If anything, the film could be tolerably longer if it gave a little more time to Herzog, who add just the right dash of camp to a movie that pulls back on levity as Reacher delves further into his investigation.  Minor qualms aside, Jack Reacher is a welcome reminder that bells and whistles may sound nice, but a punch to the gut and the roar of an engine can be just as enjoyable.

Rating: B


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  • Brett Rankin

    Seeing it tomorrow. This review makes it sound like the exact Jack Reacher movie I wanted to see. Nice review, Matt.

  • zac

    now that’s a balanced review! aye??

  • Max Drome

    Tom Cruise = Legend .

    • Tyler

      Well, he did star in Ridley Scott’s “Legend”.

  • dobby

    He still looks like a bobble head in the poster. Whoever photoshopped it needs glasses.

  • Arnyx

    Fuck Cruise. . Bring on Mission Impossible 5. .

  • TR55

    “The Law Has Limits, He Does Not…”

    Replace the movie title to ‘Chuck Norris’ and that could be an action comedy about Chuck Norris parody starring Chuck Norris.

  • Jay McKells

    Yeah this is a good review, wish all Matt Goldberg’s reviews were like this… This has definitely added to me wanting to see this film.

  • nifrek

    Okay, in case I ever want to start a movie review blog, let’s see if I get this right.

    When writing a bad review to a movie you get: Wow, you suck mr. reviewer! You should get fired for not liking this movie! I hate you! etc. !!!!11

    When writing a good review to a movie you get: Wow, that’s the best review you’re ever written!!!!1 Please write more good reviews about the movies I like and I will love you forever!

    So apparently in order to be a “good reviewer”, the reviewer has to give only good reviews regardless of his opinion. Giving a bad review to a movie that the readers liked or are excited about seeing obviously mean the reviewer is a terrible person who kicks puppies for fun.

    This is absurd.

    Anyway, Merry Christmas Matt. In my opinion you are the most interesting reviewer to read on this blog, in fact I’m always looking forward to reading your reviews. And yes, that’s regardless if I agree or not with them, as there would be no point otherwise. And I hope you will never stop being passionate about cinema or stop being honest in your reviews even if some readers think it’s “harsh” or “snobbish” to do so.

    • Jake

      Fuckin right.

  • Anonymous

    just watched the film and having read the first book, I think Tom Cruise gets the character of Jack Reacher dead-on! The way Reacher thinks about what he is going to do and analyses his next move and every situation…….you can see Tom Cruise doing this, which, makes him believable as Reacher, even though he is considerably shorter and blonder than the character he is portraying!

  • Anonymous

    sorry, that should have said shorter and darker!!