A mass shooting has occurred in this city in Middle America where an ex-soldier parked his van near the top of a multi-storey car park, fed the meter a coin and proceeded to take a rifle and start murdering innocent people across the way. He made a getaway, but left two clues behind: the coin which has his fingerprints on it, and a bullet casing he apparently missed, so the investigating detective Emerson (David Oyelowo) has two leads plus the CCTV footage to enable him to get his man, which he promptly does. James Barr (Joseph Sikora) is the culprit and he is quickly brought in to the station, but when asked to sign a confession, all he writes on the paper are three words: “Get Jack Reacher”.
When Tom Cruise was cast in the Reacher role, the howls of outrage from fans of Lee Child’s bestselling series of novels were heard across the world, they believed he was utterly miscast as the towering freelance investigator from the page, as he was well known for being rather short in stature, or at least well under the required six foot five inches. In addition, they thought the story would be “Cruised up” to better suit his capabilities, or more likely in their view limitations, though for the average fan of the star this proved not to be so much of an issue, as the film, renamed Jack Reacher from the source’s One Shot, was a fair-sized success and spawned a follow-up four years later, also based on a Child original.
Setting itself up as a mystery, this was hamstrung from the start, not because of the leading man but because you just knew Barr was innocent if he was an ally of Reacher, leaving little suspense, indeed by the second hour what could have been a snappy little action movie had bloated into a trudging marathon through what turned into a conspiracy flick with much seventies paranoia de nos jours in force. Once our hero has turned up, he sets about his investigation with the help of the defence attorney assigned to Barr, Helen (Rosamund Pike), who enters the plot as a go-getting woman of means then swiftly is relegated to exposition-prompting kidnap and save fodder, all the while coming round to the idea of adoring the protagonist for his no-nonsense approach to justice.
As if that wasn’t tiresome enough, there were elements that hinted at a texture more interesting than what we had when the material wasn’t blanded out, most prominently the presence of distinguished cult director Werner Herzog as the Blofeld-esque baddie pulling the strings, or he would if he hadn’t chewed off his fingers. He was a Russian which Herzog ignored to keep his Bavarian accent throughout, but his distinctive tones lifted his scenes in a way rather squandered by relegating him to an overblown cameo, all the better to keep any kind of personality out of the movie, or so it came across. This left us with the Cruiser essentially playing a modern day superhero, knowing what to do in every situation and bringing in a rather fascistic view of justice by the conclusion.
So charmless was Reacher in this version that you may find yourself hoping Herzog would work out a way to see to it that he was offed once and for all before his movie career as a recurring character got past the first instalment, and then we could follow the adventures of the madman behind the international scheming instead. Cruise made with the odd quip that made him simply sound smug and in need of bringing down to size, and while the occasional burst of violence was well enough choreographed by director Christopher McQuarrie, most of it was merely watching this man be demonstrated absolutely correct in everything he did, which did not make for engrossing cinema. Seeing as how that violence was strictly PG-13, it wasn’t even substantial enough to be exciting on a visceral level you imagine the followers of the novels would relish, so largely bloodless and Robert Duvall appearing late on as an elderly badass was too little too late. It was frustrating that you could perceive something distinctive had been lost in transition from page to generic star vehicle. Music by Joe Kraemer.