Right off the bat, I'll admit I don't know a thing about author Lee Chidl's series of books featuring the ex-military investigator known as Jack Reacher. As a result, I don't give a damn about whether this fictional character is written as a six-and-a-half-foot-tall small house of a man, or a little stick of short-fused dynamite named Tom Cruise. Going into JACK REACHER, I was curious to see if Cruise could pull off an action character that was significantly different than the ones he's played in so many other films, particularly the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movies. And I'm happy to report that Reacher is nothing like Ethan Hunt. Whereas Hunt is gadgeted to the teeth, sleek and endlessly confident, Reacher is a rough-around-the-edges soldier who has few social graces and a fighting style that requires as little movement on this part as possible. He's a trained killer who has spent most of his career going after other trained killers. He's just a little better at his job.
The film begins with the assassination of a seemingly random number of citizens out in the middle of the day for their lunch. A suspect is picked up who seems beyond guilty, and he scribbles down a note to the police that have him—"Get Jack Reacher."—before he slips into a coma. But no sooner has the District Attorney (Richard Jenkins) started trying to track down Reacher, then the man himself strolls into his office to figure out why this total stranger summoned him.
What surprised me most about JACK REACHER wasn't just the economic filmmaking and action sequences that come at the hands of adaptor/director Christopher McQuarrie (THE WAY OF THE GUN and writer of THE USUAL SUSPECTS) but also the time devoted to actually solving the many mysteries unveiled during this course of the investigation. What especially fascinating about Cruise's take on Reacher is two-fold: he's got a dry, dark sense of humor and he seems completely devoid in social pleasantries, especially when dealing with the murder suspect's lawyer, Helen (Rosamund Pike), who just happens to be the DA's daughter. David Oyelowo is also on hand as the lead investigating detective in the mass murder case.
Reacher's own investigation brings him into the company of some of the most interesting villains I've seen in quite some time, including Jai Courtney as the button man for a criminal leader named The Zec, played by the incomparable director (and occasional actor) Werner Herzog, who just looks horribly strung out in every scene he's in. The film's cast takes part and/or is the victim of some fairly shocking levels of brutal violence that is in no way glorified. McQuarrie has made the decision to go this route, and the results are unlike most studio action films. One last cast member who must be mentioned is Robert Duvall as Cash, a gun store owner who is something of a kindred spirit to Reacher and is certainly the closest thing Reacher has to a soulmate (or perhaps a glimpse into his future). Their scenes are probably my favorite in the film.
JACK REACHER isn't exactly breaking new ground; if anything, it's taking a few steps back and remembering how basic a fight scene or chase sequence can get and still be wonderfully effective. There's something refreshingly old school about director McQuarrie's visuals, Cruise's acting choices, and Duvall and Herzog just being plain-old badass. This isn't the best of the holiday offerings, but it might be the best action flick of the season.