I’ve read the first three Jack Reacher books (Killing Floor, Die Trying and Tripwire). There’s another fourteen of the buggers after that, including a few short stories. In the space of those three books, I like to think I’ve got a pretty good idea of what makes Jack Reacher tick.
He’s not a complicated character, or one that displays any discernible personal growth between books. In that respect, he reminds me of James Bond. If James Bond were to have quit MI6, and spent the rest of his life “off the grid”, wandering from place to place, and getting into adventures.
Like Bond, Reacher is something of a ridiculous character. This isn’t a criticism. No, if anything, it’s a compliment. Reacher is basically a psychopath whose sheer masculinity — and expertise at eye gouging and thousand yard sniper shots — turns women’s panties moist with anticipation at the moonlit/stormlit/sunlit (delete as applicable) rogering they’re about to receive.
So why’s that a compliment? It’s because the author, Lee Child, seems to take his creation extremely seriously. There’s a breath-taking lack of irony in the pages of a Jack Reacher novel. There’s no room for the type of postmodernism that gets hipsters spilling their skinny latte in their laps with sheer excitement. Reacher is old school, a hard man loner that seems sort of silly now. But it’s that mixture of silliness and seriousness, that makes a Jack Reacher novel such a fun, compulsive read.
So does all this cross over into the first film adaptation? It’s a resounding yes. The director, Christopher McQuarrie, is a man who gets it. In attempting to play it straight, he draws inspiration from the nineteen-seventies, when thrillers had a cold, hard, serious edge to them. This is no more clear than in the opening sniper scene, where a lone gunman shoots five random strangers from a building across a river.
McQuarrie makes great use of music in this scene. As the sniper drives to his destination, the soundtrack thumps noisily, only to drop away to silence after he’s arrived, positioned his rifle, and begun sweeping the crosshairs over his potential victims. All we can hear is the sniper’s breathing. It’s chilling.
The music kicks back in once the carnage has ended, and the cops have rolled up to begin their investigation. The opening eight minutes or so are notable for having almost no dialogue, apart from a SWAT team member shouting, “Move!”. That one command breaks up the wordless opening, and I wish it had been removed to make the scene even cooler.
Still, innocent people have been shot! And there’s nothing cool about that! It proves to be the catalyst for a swift introduction to Jack Reacher himself. We follow him from the bed of a nameless woman he appears to have had intimate relations with, onto a bus, and to the town where the shootings took place.
It’s a simple story really, which actually blows one of its twists early on. We’re left knowing more than some of the major characters, waiting for them to catch up with us. It seems odd at first. Why does McQuarrie do that? I have a feeling the intention is to help the viewer identify with Reacher more readily. He’s a superman, quick with his fists and his brains. Not someone who’s particularly easy to relate to. He always seems to know what’s going on before those around him do. By being in on the twist, it’s almost like the viewer is Jack Reacher. It creates that connection. We can feel smug too!
But is Tom Cruise Jack Reacher? When his casting was announced, there was some concern. Reacher in the books is a mountain of a man, well over six-foot. Not traits you would necessarily equate with a pint-sized Tom Cruise. Whilst he does the best he can, I don’t think he’s quite right for the role. Author Lee Childis diplomatic, saying, “Reacher’s size in the books is a metaphor for an unstoppable force, which Cruise portrays in his own way.”
I don’t want to be overly critical. The guy gives it his all, proving good value in the fight scenes, and especially in his stunt work driving cars at high-speed. But he’s too small of frame. Reacher should be a bit rough around the edges too, a guy who’s took all the knocks and come through the other side, tougher than ever. A smoothie like Tom Cruise doesn’t quite fit that profile, despite his best efforts.
Whether Cruise is suitable or not, most of the film’s success can be attributed to McQuarrie, who I think is a great director. He’s a guy who orchestrates action in an old school way. The middle of the film has a car chase which showcases his skill. He understands when to slow a scene down, then pick up the pace again, giving an action set piece a nice ebb and flow. He’s definitely underrated. Mind you, it’s probably his own fault. He is unprolific. He reminds me of Walter Hill in his prime, and I wish he would get behind the camera more often.
I’d love to see him do a Jack Reacher 2.
Just how intense is Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher?
Starting with my Oblivion review, I’m now measuring Tom Cruise’s intensity in each of his movies. So just how intense is Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher?
95%. Possibly the most intense I’ve seen Tom since, well, since I saw his last movie a few days ago. But it’s a strange one. It’s kind of a mid level intensity. But one that remains almost constant throughout the movie. There are less highs and lows. For instance, Tom never really chills out with a beer at something like 20% intensity, followed by a scene where he suddenly leaps to 90% intensity.
His intensity levels tend to hover around the 70% to 80% mark with occasional spikes to either 90% or 99% intensity. So I think, roughly, for the whole of the movie, this averages out to 95%. Again, I would like to stress that there is no science or genuine maths behind these calculations. They’re simply figures plucked out of thin air, based on pure gut instinct. Shit, Jack Reacher would be proud of me.