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The Independent Critic

Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Werner  Herzog, Robert Duvall
Christopher McQuarrie
Christopher McQuarrie (Screenplay), Josh Olson (Writer), Lee Child (Novel, "One Shot")
Rated PG-13
130 Mins.
Paramount Pictures
None on DVD. On Blu-ray: commentary by Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie, commentary by composer Joe Kraemer, behind-the-scenes featurette, combat and weapons featurette and a look at "The Reacher Phenomenon."

 "Jack Reacher" a Slightly Darker Tom Cruise 
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It likely says quite a bit about Jack Reacher that it's a Tom Cruise flick released during awards season yet it isn't being touted for any awards and was only screened for critics at the last minute (Though, in Paramount's defense, they did do a promo screening here in Indianapolis for general audiences a bit earlier).

Cruise is a three-time Oscar nominee, but Jack Reacher isn't so much an effort to gain Oscar cred as it is an effort to remain relevant at the box-office after a relative drop in public esteem has led to Cruise being viewed more as tabloid fodder than the Hollywood icon he seemed destined to be only a few years ago.

The good news is that Jack Reacher features Cruise dropping, at least to a certain degree, that all too familiar wide-eyed grin and semi-smirk that seems to show up in just about every Cruise film. Cruise is, in fact, doing more of a slow simmer here that adds to the mystery of his character and the suspense of the film. Based upon Lee Child's 2005 novel One Shot, Jack Reacher starts off with a shooter named James Barr (Joseph Sikora) showing up in a parking lot, assembling a rifle and promptly offing five seemingly random passers by while carelessly leaving a couple clues that lead straight to Barr, a former military sniper. Despite the apparently open-and-shut case, Barr refuses to talk and instead requests Jack Reacher (Cruise), with whom he shares a bit of a past that can't exactly be described as congenial.

Reacher is a former military police officer who lives a life best described as "off the grid," a simple existence where he holds on to nothing from the past and nothing in the present. While Reacher isn't exactly a fan of Barr, once he starts investigating alongside Barr's lawyer (Rosamund Pike) he starts to believe that Barr's proclamation of innocence may very well be true. While Cruise is fine as the low-key and simmering Reacher, he's rather surprisingly lacking in scenes where Reacher's personality really needs to shine through. There's more to Reacher than simply his mystery, but Cruise seems content to play him as a darker and more intense figure perhaps meant to rival the intensity of a certain shadowy figure known as The Zec (a brilliantly cast Werner Herzog).

The film is directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who last directed 2000's The Way of the Gun and who won an Oscar Award for writing The Usual Suspects. McQuarrie can certainly tell a great story, but he's still fumbling his way towards directorial credibility. A more gifted directly would have likely been able to coax a more nuanced performance out of Cruise, who has unfortunately become one of those stars whose real life persona increasingly invades his on-screen performances. While a good majority of America still loves Cruise's on-screen presence, the simple truth is that the formerly under-appreciated actor is more coasting on his good looks and natural charisma these days than he is tackling anything resembling a substantial character.

This is not to say that Jack Reacher is a waste of time.

It's not.

In fact, there's quite a bit of fun to be had in the film if you're willing to lower your expectations at the door and settle for a good ole' fashioned popcorn flick. It'll be interesting to see how America feels about the film given that the fairly violent film about a sniper comes on the heels of the Sandy Hook tragedy. In fact, the film's Pennsylvania world premiere was actually called off out of respect for the previous day's tragedy. As previously noted, Werner Herzog is a strangely wonderful choice to play the mysterious figure known as The Zec, a dry sociopath who likely lives somewhere within Javier Bardem's family tree. Robert Duvall, who shows up late in the film, is still memorable as a gun shop owner while the always terrific Richard Jenkins adds a nice spark as the opposing D.A., who also happens to be the father to Rosamund Pike's defense attorney.

Oh what tangled webs we weave.

If you fancy yourself a Tom Cruise fan, then there's likely enough for you to enjoy in Jack Reacher to make it worth your while. If by some weird shot (get it?) you haven't had enough gun talk over the last few days, then Jack Reacher may be your perfect escape. It's certainly not Cruise's best, but it's far from his worst.

It's simple, really.

This is awards season. We're surrounded by potential Oscar nominees, but if you'd rather see something a bit breezier then either go the action route with Jack Reacher or the comedy route with Streisand and Rogen.

Gun shots or a shrill Jewish mother?

Oy vey.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic