Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise are the Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro of action films.
Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography is efficient in the best way possible. There’s nothing deep or innovative going on with the camera work, but it’s efficient enough to keep the story moving along without losing the audience’s attention. The cinematography truly excels when it’s following the action sequences and while there are only a handful of set pieces in Jack Reacher, all of them manage to stand out because of how well they’re shot. I also loved how the cinematography did the most to build up to Jack Reacher’s reveal during the first act. We get a sequence with David Oyelowo’s Detective Emerson talking about Jack Reacher’s credentials and army background, and as that’s going on, we cut back to the camera capturing Jack Reacher through overhead shots, behind the shoulder shots, and reaction shots from random people. It’s a very effective sequence in establishing the larger than life personality of the character. There are also a lot of sequences involving characters putting clues together and none are more effective than the sequence at the start of the film.
The opening sequence following the sniper assassination is the best use of “show, don’t tell” as we follow Detective Emerson looking for evidence and putting together all the pieces to track down the killer’s identity. It’s a brief sequence, but it effectively manages to help the audience put the pieces together with Emerson without having to rely on dialogue to explain what’s happening. The camera follows through the whole detective process in sequence as Emerson first discovers the bullet shell, followed by the fingerprint analysis and DNA scan, and finally, the arrest of the suspect. It’s a sequence with largely no dialogue and it only relies on score and editing to get its point across. Cinematography doesn’t always need to be elaborate and fancy and Caleb Deschanel’s workmanlike proficiency shows that you can make the most out of very little.
Every once in awhile, you get a Tom Cruise performance that diverges just a hair from his typical leading man persona and Jack Reacher is a nice change of pace for him! The character of Jack Reacher is more of an anti-hero than a straight up good guy and while Tom Cruise manages to give a slightly darker performance, he still manages to inject some charm and charisma to keep it on brand with his movie star persona. Released at a time when Cruise’s career was slowly going downhill, Jack Reacher was the comeback that Cruise needed as it not only served as his first collaboration with director Christopher McQuarrie, but it was also as the beginning of Cruise’s next phase in his career: the action hero. Much like his later films, Cruise has great chemistry with his female costars and the scenes between him and Rosamund Pike are sizzlin’ hot! Their chemistry borders on the line of flirtatious but neither one ever acts upon it and it’s refreshing to see a dude and dudette relationship that’s built on respect as opposed to full on sexual tension.
While Tom Cruise gets to thrive in this film, most of the other actors save for Rosamund Pike don’t have the same luxury. Not gonna lie, I was stoked to see Werner Herzog and his distinct voice tear up the screen as the bad guy but he’s barely even in the movie! He’s the mastermind behind the curtain but instead of doing something downright nasty with the character, it’s just a thankless role that needed a performer of gravitas to make it believable. Now it’s time we talk about everyone’s favorite actor, Jai Courtney who’s actually pretty decent here but not enough to make him a memorable villain. The issue with the characters also comes in relation to the plot because it’s unnecessarily confusing and when you introduce all these characters, you end up with too many characters with very little to do. I just finished watching this a few hours ago and I couldn’t even tell you why David Oyelowo suddenly turned heel. Despite all the high profile talent in Jack Reacher, it’s ultimately Tom Cruise who keeps it afloat and none of the actors can quite match his level of charisma.
There are legitimately only a handful of action set pieces in Jack Reacher, but they’re some of the neatest action sequences you can watch! If you’re a fan of Christopher McQuarrie’s previous two Mission Impossible films, then you owe it to yourself to watch Jack Reacher for the action sequences alone. It’s a lot smaller scale and toned down compared to the action that McQuarrie would direct in the future, but you can see McQuarrie developing his style and slowly inching his way in becoming one of the most competent action directors working today. Much like the cinematography, McQuarrie’s direction is functional rather than innovative and while most would view that as a bad thing, there are very few directors who can shoot action as well as McQuarrie can. It also doesn’t hurt that you have Tom Cruise willing to perform the stunts himself which makes it feel that much more authentic.
I think almost everyone will say the car chase is the best sequence in the film, but as a fan of hand-to-hand combat, the brawl outside the bar was an absolute banger. Cruise is no slouch when it comes to action and he proves that he can throw down with the younger guys, in fact, his character pleads for the younger guys to walk away because they’re no challenge for him. Cruise moves with such speed and grace that you’ll have a hard time believing that a man in his early fifties could move like that. His athleticism is in full display and he does it without breaking a sweat. Much like the other action set pieces in the film, there’s little to no score played during the sequences which helps make the action feel more immersive and intimate. I personally would have preferred more wide shots with fewer edits, but even so, the action is discernible and it’s executed impeccably.
KICK-ASS or ASS-KICKED?
The action is strong and the performances are functional, but the story itself is rather convoluted and uninteresting and it feels like a chore to get through just to get to the action. I expected an action film, but what I got was more along the lines of a crime-thriller that was too confusing for its own good. It’s not bad to get it’s ass kicked, but I don’t think it’s strong enough to be a kick-ass action movie, so I suppose we’ll give it a stalemate. Cruise’s charisma and McQuarrie’s directing keep this from being an outright dud and both do the most in delivering exciting action set pieces both from behind and in front of the camera. Based on Cruise and McQuarrie’s future collaborations, this is the weakest of the bunch, but it was also the start of a budding relation ship between the two. Jack Reacher delivers nothing new to the genre, but it does the most to deliver as much fun as it possibly can.