I was recently turned on to the Jack Reacher (book) franchise. By ‘recently’ I mean this year, and by ‘turned onto’ I mean I’ve read eight of those books since January this year. So I was really curious to see how one of my favourite Jack Reacher books (they are all written by an author named Lee Child) fared in its cinematic avatar.
The book in question is called One Shot, it opens with a sniper attack somewhere in Pittsburgh and when they find the man who did it he refuses to confess. Instead he asks them to get Jack Reacher. In the books Jack Reacher is a six-foot-five, ex-Army officer who served most of his thirteen years as a military cop.
In the movie he is played by Tom Cruise.
Once he got out of the Army, Reacher decided to see his country and he does this by hitchhiking, owning very few clothes—just the ones on his back actually—and by maintaining no fixed address for himself. There are differences between the character in the books and the way Mr. Cruise plays him. This much is to be expected. Certain portions of the book are also either dropped, modified, or conflated to make the text suitable for the screen.
All of that I get.
What I don’t get is how the changes led to a movie as pedestrian as this one. As with every series of books there are high points and low(er) ones but One Shot is close to the highest quality among the books I’ve read thus far. Mr. Child’s style of prose so fits the character of a drifter who used to be a military cop that it is as if he is simply telling the story of his own life. Mr. Cruise’s knowing smile doesn’t quite have the same effect.
But it’s not just Mr. Cruise whose performance is lacking in this rather long movie. Director Christopher McQuarrie, working from a script he penned himself, doesn’t quite seem to have grasped the character of Reacher. In the books he is tough, uncompromising, and capable. And it is a joy to follow him around as he pokes at the edges of a case before making his way to the truth at the centre of all the mayhem. That structure—that sense of unwrapping the package to reveal the puzzle inside—is missing from the movie.
Instead we are given a run-of-the-mill detective story which is teeming with characters who don’t quite justify their screen time. Except for a young actress named Alexia Fast, who plays the character of Sandy—the young woman who attempts to seduce Reacher, and embroils him in a street fight where the odds look distinctly unfavourable to him. In her few scenes onscreen Ms. Last does a great job of ‘becoming’ the small town girl with a taste for danger who is also smart enough to know when she has bitten off more than she can chew.
Rosamund Pike’s performance is just distracting, there’s no other word for it. And Werner Herzog, as the shadowy villain, looks confused rather than menacing. Which is a serious disservice to Mr. Child’s prose because in the book The Zec was one creepy dude.
Final Analysis: Jack Reacher the movie exists on a different plane from the book series. Whereas I was thoroughly entertained by the books I don’t think I’ll manufacture any enthusiasm to watch another cinematic interpretation. On the flip side though, this movie will not diminish my enjoyment of the remaining books.
My Advice: Pick up one of the books instead of spending 130 unsatisfactory minutes with this movie.