Jack ReacherFans of the Jack Reacher series by novelist Lee Child were cheering and jeering last night at a screening of the new Jack Reacher film starring Tom Cruise.  Reacher, an ex-Army military police officer, is a character completely unlike Cruise in almost every way – at least, physically.  Standing at 6′ 5″ and weighing in around 210 – 250 lbs (pure muscle, baby) the Jack Reacher from Child’s novels is described as stoic and imposing.

Will fans buy Tom Cruise as Reacher?  I think they just might.

The film begins with a sniper killing five random people in Pittsburgh.  After the cops collar a suspect named James Barr, amidst a great crime scene, Barr asks for a man named Jack Reacher.  Reacher is a drifter, a ghost – no mailing address, email address, cell phone.  Nothing.  In a faraway land (maybe California), Reacher is watching the news that James Barr has been arrested for killing five people.  He and Barr have a history.

Reacher jumps on the next Greyhound bound for Pittsburgh.  True to One Shot‘s story line – walks into a Goodwill, buys one change of clothes, and appears at the hospital where Barr is being held.  Now in a coma after a serious beating, Barr cannot be questioned by Reacher.  Instead, Barr’s defense attorney, Helen Rodin (played by Rosamund Pike, whom I adore), hires Reacher to be her lead investigator.  Together, the two attempt to flesh out the truth.

The strengths of Jack Reacher reside within the film’s brilliant production – from the cinematographyjack-reacher-tom-cruise-robert-duvall of the car chase and fight sequences to the opening scene in which the cross hairs of the sniper’s scope relentlessly passes from one unsuspecting victim to another.  Unnerving and tense, cinematographer Caleb Deschanel draws out this scene beyond the comfort level of his audience.  It works.

I will openly praise the action sequences in Jack Reacher, from the Laurel & Hardy-esque fight scene between two bat-wielding attackers and Reacher in a very small bathroom, to the epic car chase sequence.  The action is tight and understandable, enjoyable even.

The sound throughout the film is sparse – the first five minutes of the film is practically silent, there’s no dialogue.  Music is only used when absolutely necessary.  This lends an overall tone of economy – which is so Reacher, at it’s core – but also attempts to direct the viewer’s attention and emotional responses in a less heavy-handed way.

The downside to Jack Reacher is that it’s a subpar mystery film with a muddy plot.  Cruise is best when he leaves his mouth shut because it is then, and only then, that the audience has a chance to superimpose the character they love from the novels with the character now before them on the screen.  Reacher, after all, is a man of few words.  Making those he says mean all the more.

Rosamund Pike spends the film in a constant state of shocked surprise – a fact that is initially endearing, but ultimately distracting.  My favorite character actor, Richard Jenkins, co-stars as District Attorney Rodin (Helen Rodin’s father).

All in all, Jack Reacher is destined to enjoy some success at the box office – drawing a mixed bag of Tom Cruise and Jack Reacher fans – but I wouldn’t be surprised if a sequel is slow to follow.