Friday, February 21, 2014

DVD of the Week: Jack Reacher

I've spent a few days pondering on Jack Reacher, because in some ways its a bit of an odd movie. On the face of it, it's what you'd expect, a big-name, potential franchise starter, with a bad-ass hero and some familiar beats, and on the other its got a curious tone at times at odds with the sort of middle-brow fare you'd expect it to be. Also, Tom Cruise, an actor who continues to confuse me by not settling in make movies I can confidently ignore, nor move over in the "reliably watchable" category either, so anything with his name on it tends to be a bit of a gamble.

Jack Reacher starts with a spree-shooting, as a lone sniper sets up over a park, and opens up on a random selection of innocent targets. Evidence at the scene quickly leads the Police to a former soldier, a seemingly open-and-shut case, even with the suspects protestations of innocence. However, mysterious, off-the-grid former Army Cop Jack Reacher is soon on the case, suspecting an intricate frame-up, by person or persons unknown, and soon he and novice Defense Attorney Rosamund Pike are doing the usual running and shouting and ducking.

It finally struck me that what the film resembles the most isn't so much any other genre of film, but rather the reliable format of TV Procedural Drama, but with a larger budget and Tom Cruise. You've got the mis-matched male/female leads, a steady progression up the suspect and evidence chain, and a fairly episodic format you could wrap advert breaks around if you really wanted to. I'm not saying this as a wholly bad thing - I like Procedurals - but it is odd so see in the movie format. This importation of TV cliches means some of the Movie ones get lost, which means (thankfully) no pairing off of Cruise and Pike, but rather a cooler, more professional relationship that works rather well.

There is also something about the films sense of humour that I've found hard to quantify. It's not a funny film, as such, but there are dark flashes throughout it that I can only assume come from Lee Childs source novel. Reacher is supposed to be an enigmatic, tough character, a right-of-wrongs that serves Justice, rather than The Law, and that comes across well. The Western may be a dead genre currently but I guess you could parcel this in with several other attempts to pull its themes into the modern era.

What Jack Reacher doesn't do so well is pull its main plot together. Werner Herzog is a great presence but the complex conspiracy at work doesn't really hold water for me - I mean, sure, it all makes sense, but it feels extravagant and showy; a mystery waiting to be solved, that adds a level of artifice that jars slightly with the more gritty tone that the film has in other areas. It probably just needed more screen time, or higher stakes to work better, but as it is, it felt like an awful lot of care and effort for a result that could have been done far more simply.

So in the end where does this stand on the Tom-Cruise-o-meter? It's not the most interesting or challenging project he's attached himself to, but at the same time it feels like a notch above a lazy star-vehicle. It's less of a wasted opportunity than say, Oblivion,  for instance, but not a patch on the work he's been capable of doing when he's gone to work with some of the high-end directors. It's fine, and sometimes I guess that's what you want.