by Ken B.
On one of the top levels of a Pittsburgh parking garage, a van drives up. A quarter is placed in the parking meter. Thirty minutes are now available, but that amount of time won’t be needed. Out comes a sniper. He loads the gun, points it at the street across the way and kills five people at the outskirts of PNC Park. This is the opening sequence of Jack Reacher. While intriguing on paper, it more or less plays out like an episode of your everyday cop show. That’s an indicator of the film that will follow. It’s painstakingly tedious: monotony occasionally broken by an action scene to wake the viewer out of their boredom induced slumber. Even those are weirdly univolving and listless. It’s competently framed and edited, but that’s hardly worthy compensation for the 130 minutes this movie occupies.
The main suspect (Joseph Sikora) is now in a coma after a bad run in with some inmates in a prison van. He’s represented by Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), the head of the law firm just unlucky enough to get the case. Helen is the daughter of the district attorney (Richard Jenkins). Before the attack, the man had requested the services of a man named Jack Reacher. It took a while to figure out who this even was; Reacher was essentially a ghost, with virtually no trail, except for occasional withdrawals from a bank account, sustained from his military career. Jack (Tom Cruise) eventually saves the police the pursuit and comes to them, offering to work on the case. What follows leads to the unraveling of a far bigger event.
Aside from a few select moments, there’s no real joy to be had watching Jack Reacher. A lot of it is gloomy and dark. While such an ideal can be a good thing for this kind of movie, and typically is, it doesn’t work here. There’s just something not right about the way the movie operates, and therefore it’s more likely to be off-putting than applicably brooding. Maybe it’s how Jack Reacher sometimes spits out one liners like there’s no tomorrow, where the crime that the movie is based around is about the seemingly random sniping of five people in broad daylight (it also added a bit of unintentional creepiness back when it hit theaters, considering that this film was released in the U.S. exactly one week after the Sandy Hook shooting).
But there are good things. I mentioned the technical aspects, which add limited interest to the bigger action set pieces, but the acting is not to be entirely discredited. Cruise has a mostly cool, slick, confident demeanor in the title role. Robert Duvall is good in a supporting role late in the film. Werner Herzog (!) has a pretty interesting role later on as well, and David Oyelowo has a solid dynamic with Cruise as a detective initially suspicious of Reacher.
Despite the few commendable qualities, Christopher McQuarrie’s adaptation of Lee Child’s 2005 novel is a miserable film that left me feeling similarly. Its pointlessness seems nearly self aware at times, going through plot development sullenly and perfunctorily, just waiting for the next scene where Tom Cruise beats up some bad guys. It’s a game of staring at the events onscreen blankly, never feeling like anything more than a witness that has little clue or care of what’s going on. There’s going to be a sequel, they say. Oh.