Paramount // 2012 // 130 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // May 3rd, 2013
The law has limits. He does not.
With a generic title and a misleading marketing campaign, Tom Cruise's latest star vehicle Jack Reacher stumbled a little during its late 2012 theatrical release. Though the movie was ultimately a success thanks for global box office grosses, it failed to get much respect in the U.S. Now that the movie has arrived on DVD and Blu-ray, hopefully audiences can figure out that they were wrong to pass on it the first time around. It's a good one.
A group of random bystanders are killed by a sniper in Pittsburgh, and when the FBI arrests their suspect, he refuses to talk. He offers only a written message: "Get Jack Reacher."
Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is former military police who has gone off the grid, but shows up in Pittsburgh when he sees the suspect on TV for his own personal reasons. He is enlisted by Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike, Surrogates), the assistant D.A. assigned to the case, to act as her investigator, and he very quickly uncovers unexpected connections between the victims and suspects that there are much bigger forces at work than just a random bad guy. How right he is.
Let's get this out of the way up front: I have not read any of Lee Child's Jack Reacher books, including One Shot, the novel on which Christopher McQuarrie's latest movie Jack Reacher is based. I am aware of the controversy surrounding the casting of Tom Cruise, who in no way matches the towering physical description of Reacher from the books. I know fans of the beloved series were up in arms before the film adaptation came out. How many of them actually bothered to see the movie, I cannot say. What I can say is that independent of its literary inspiration, problematic casting or not, Jack Reacher is pretty terrific.
Here's a movie that recalls the grow-up procedurals of the 1990s in the best way, less interested in "twisting" than in gradually revealing new information and layers to the story. It manages to provide a compelling mystery despite laying out exactly what happened in the opening scene. It features an interesting cast, from Tom Cruise tweaking his image (more on that in a second) to Australian actor Jai Courtney (being way better in a supporting role here than in all of A Good Day to Die Hard) to Rosamund Pike, more engaged here than ever before, to the brilliant casting of director Werner Herzog as the film's villain. Christopher McQuarrie, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Usual Suspects, with only one previous directorial effort (the super underrated Way of the Gun), proves that he's capable of making a slick studio picture without sacrificing the intelligence we've come to expect from him. This is a sharp, interesting movie that deserved better than it got at the box office.
Having said that, Jack Reacher doesn't work quite as well on a second viewing -- I'm not sure it's the kind of movie that will stand up to a lot of repeat watches. The mystery is a key element of the film's success, which is especially impressive because the movie announces right up front who the guilty parties are. It's not that kind of whodunit, more of a "whydunit." The joy is in watching Reacher put together impossible clues -- it's in the solving, not the solution. Once that has been revealed, the shine comes off a little bit. Only a little, of course, because Jack Reacher is still a very entertaining star vehicle: smartly made, well-written and better than we typically get from the studio system. This should be the standard. Every movie should be at least as good as Jack Reacher. A great movie should be better.
The film is very clever in the way that it plays with Cruise's movie star persona. On the surface, this is a great movie star part: Jack Reacher is the ultimate badass, who can beat up five guys at once and solve the most difficult case presented to him. He knows everything, he can do anything. He's the BEST. That's part of the point of the character, who walks the line of parody in a knowing way, but Cruise doesn't play him as perfect. We've seen him play this kind of character before -- he basically built his entire career playing guys who know they are awesome, then doubt that they might not be awesome, but then realize that yes, they are awesome. Reacher is a little different, and Cruise doesn't shy away from exposing an ugly side of the character. He's like a commentary on every previous Tom Cruise character, or even on the celebrity of Tom Cruise himself. Reacher is basically an a-hole to just about everyone he encounters, and not as a part he plays to get what he wants. There is no reveal that he's really a big softie. He is unapologetic about being cold and sometimes even cruel. He has a superiority complex, and even though it's earned, it's rare to see that kind of thing in the hero of a Hollywood movie.
Paramount has done a phenomenal job with Jack Reacher on Blu-ray, offering a first-rate video and audio presentation and a decent collection of bonus features. The 2.40:1 widescreen image arrives in full 1080p HD and it looks phenomenal: flawless detail, rich, naturalistic colors, and no digital tinkering or artificial "enhancements" are visible. Though it's not an effects-heavy movie the way other reference titles are, the studio has done a reference-level job on Jack Reacher. Same goes for the lossless audio track; offering seven channels instead of the standard five, the track is precise and detailed in a way that few others are. Dialogue is always clear, but the careful separation of effects is where the track excels. Not only does it consistently do a good job with Joe Kraemer's score, but really adds to the procedural aspect of the film -- the movie is about taking small pieces of information and synthesizing them into an answer, and the audio track does a great job at isolating those small pieces and making them count. Because the "action" beats are used sparingly -- every gunshot is careful and deliberate -- they always make the maximum impact.
Director McQuarrie and Tom Cruise sit down for a commentary track, the appeal of which is more Cruise's star power than anything else. It's a decent conversation because McQuarrie is a thoughtful and detail-oriented filmmaker as well as a terrific writer, but Cruise is in full movie star-promoter mode, mostly there just to champion everything about the movie that he likes. Still, it's rare that someone of Cruise's celebrity does one of these commentaries (he has recorded them before for Jerry Maguire and a brief appearance on the Vanilla Sky commentary), so it's kind of fun to hear when one does. A second commentary, from composer Joe Kraemer, appears alongside an isolated score track.
The other supplements are making-of featurettes, the longest of which runs nearly 30 minutes and covers the production overall, from the process of adapting One Shot to the casting to the shooting. Two more specialized featurettes, covering the movie's action and the character of Reacher as created by Lee Childs, are also included. The package also comes with a standard definition DVD copy and an Ultraviolet digital copy.
The worst part of the disc? The cover art, which is among the worst ever produced for a major Hollywood movie. There are fan-made Photoshop jobs that are more creative, sophisticated and better executed than this, and Paramount may have shot themselves in the foot with the artwork. If their hope is that people who skipped the movie in theaters will be encouraged to rent or buy the disc based on the cover, they're in big trouble. It is bad on a cosmic level.
Part of Jack Reacher's appeal was in the way that it defies low expectations (which reviews like this will hopefully combat). It was marketed badly and boasts the most generic title since the now-famous flop John Carter, setting a low bar for itself. The fact that it was any good made it a pleasant surprise; that it's actually very good made it downright delightful. It's unfortunate that the domestic box office take wasn't quite high enough to warrant a sequel. If McQuarrie and Cruise wanted to reteam for more Jack Reacher stories, I'd be the first in line.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 130 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* DVD Copy
* UltraViolet Download