Love him or hate him as a human being, Tom Cruise is one of the most powerful action stars in the business. This is evident in the opening credits to Jack Reacher, where you can view his name twice before any mention of writer/director Christopher McQuarrie or even the name of the film. Based on the story "One Shot" from Lee Child's anthology of Jack Reacher novels, the film follows the titular character, a tough-as-nails ex-military detective who drifts from place to place, solving crimes and kicking ass, all while taking sass from nobody.
I've never read a single Jack Reacher novel, but my understanding of the character is that he is a 6-foot-5 stacked brick-house of face-smashing man-meat. While the film was in pre-production, people were making a lot of noise about McQuarrie's choice to pick 5-foot-7, kind-hearted ol' Crazy Cruise for the role. Having no particular attachment to the character, this could not have been less of a problem for me. Cruise brings his A-game, cracking ribs, punching nuts, and delivering one-liner after one-liner in a way that recalls the classic action films of the 1980's and 90's. I never for a moment doubted that he was the one man army that he was written as.
The plot is essentially a run-of-the-mill procedural case that could have easily been adapted into an episode of CSI: New York or Law and Order: a military-trained sniper has picked off five innocents in downtown Pittsburgh, and when Jack Reacher is called in (or ambles into town on his own accord) to develop a case for the defense, he discovers that there might be a larger conspiracy to unfurl. It's almost as plain-Jane of a story as it gets, but I was somehow completely engaged and surprised as the plot takes its inevitable twists and turns. Maybe I had my expectations set too low, but I left the theater really digging this one.
My only complains, if I had to single out some of its weaknesses, would start at the slightly bloated run time. At 124 minutes, it seems like the action stalls a few times in the second act to catch the viewer up on the clues uncovered and developments made on the case. To make up for this, there is quite a bit of decent fist fights and one of the greatest car chase scenes in recent memory. If 10-20 minutes of expositional content were cut, I think it could have been a lot tighter without sacrificing any of the procedural elements.
The other half of my complains would be about some of the underdeveloped characters. Cash, a grizzled ex-Marine played by Robert Duvall, shows up in the last third of the film to wrap up the investigation and act as a bit of reinforcements for Jack in a large shootout at the climax of the film. I wouldn't be too surprised if he was a character written out of the screenplay who was hastily written back in at the last minute to attempt to add a bit more comic relief.
In addition to Cash is the main antagonist of the film played by real-life crazy man Werner Herzog, known only as The Zec, who could've afforded to be a tiny bit more zany and over-the-top. His character is essentially a budget Bond villain with his eyes set a little less on world domination and a little more on urban construction. I would've really liked to see Herzog camp up his role a little more but in the end takes it just to the line of ridiculousness but not quite over. Where is the boot-eating Herzog I know and love?
Jack Reacher is the best example of a "popcorn" film that I have seen released in 2012. The violence is brutal, but also pulled back just enough to keep the PG-13 rating. Cruise does a fantastic job taking on a role that might have seen Sylvester Stallone top billed had it been released in '93. It's unfortunate that it seems to be bombing at the box office because I would definitely sign up for a whole franchise of Jack Reacher movies with Tom Cruise at the lead, wandering from town to town, solving crimes and busting heads.