A general admission ticket to see a movie on a Friday or Saturday evening at the local movie house now costs $10. So the films had better be pretty good.
Luckily “Jack Reacher,” the new Tom Cruise movie, is pretty good. It is a detective story with a remarkably accomplished cast set in places the movies don’t usually take us. It has action and some comedy. Like a lot of recent films, it has a super hero element in it, but no capes or superpowers, thankfully.
The title character, played by the littlest samurai himself, is a retired Army cop who spent several tours in war zones and the last year or so in anonymity so complete that he pays cash and doesn’t have a driver’s license.
One doesn’t really warm to Reacher, who is too confident of his ability to, for example, brush aside an attack by five young men he meets in a bar. No. One doesn’t like Reacher. But we come to admire him. Like Dirty Harry, he is more concerned with identifying the truth and serving justice than he is with formalities and law.
His name comes up when a former Army sniper is arrested. Five people have been killed in a riverside park in Pittsburgh. Convenient fingerprint evidence makes it seem this troubled man must have committed the seemingly random crimes. And screenplay writer and director Christopher McQuarrie has enough sense to let viewers believe Barr did the shooting at first.
But he doesn’t actually confess. He asks for Reacher. A couple of days later, little Jack walks into the lives of defense attorney “Helen Wroten” (Rosamund Pike), her father the DA (Richard Jenkins), Emerson the police detective (David Oyelowo), shooting range owner Cash (Robert Duvall), and Gulag survivor Zec (Werner Herzog). Hey kids! How are those for prizes.
After considering the way the shooting was done, Reacher decides Barr is unlikely to be the criminal. An attractive girl approaches our hero in a bar, and his refusal of her offers leads to a street fight. This gives Reacher a dangling thread to pull at: who hired his attackers?
He traces the girl to her place of employment, an auto parts store. And there just in passing there is unfortunate but very gentle use of one of the two crime cliches that raise their ugly heads in the film—methadrine. The Russian mafia will figure, too, but again without emphasis. It is as if writer McQuarrie knows he is making a mistake as he types in the references.
What follows are several decent action scenes, including a long car chase that ends with a little light comedy as the local crowd, without any elaborated reason, silently sides with the object of police pursuit. Most of the comedy, though, is the responsibility of Duvall’s character, a skilled and good-natured gunman who actually falls asleep while waiting for Reacher to cue his activity in the big set-piece action sequence at the movie’s climax..
One of the best moments of the film is weakened because we’ve already seen it in the previews. A kidnapper offers to preserve the life of the hostage if Reacher does this and that. “You think I’m a hero?” Reacher asks the man. Then he tells the guy what he’s going to do to him regardless of what happens to the hostage.
This actually isn’t a surprise. We’ve been warned from the top that Reacher is no Standard Operating Procedure man, that he only wants to make certain those who deserve punishment are punished and that the punishment fits the crime. We’ve seen movie characters before who act this way, but not recently enough.
So I’d say the movie “Jack Reacher” is probably worth the ten buck admission price. About how many holiday movies can we say that?