If Tom Cruise were actively searching for a successor to his Mission: Impossible franchise that retained his leading man status while being better suited to an actor of his age (now 50), then he’s found it in Jack Reacher. It’s a role tailor-made for the star (though fans of the book might disagree): an intense, mysterious, resourceful and charismatic loner, who isn’t afraid to use his fists but is just as adept at using his noggin. Adapted from Lee Child's novel One Shot by Christopher "Usual Suspects" McQuarrie, it might not match the thrills and spills of the last Mission sequel, but it’s a rather entertaining potboiler all the same – presumably in the spirit of the original text.
Reacher, as is swiftly explained, is a man who doesn’t want to be tracked or found. A decorated former military investigator, he has no address, credit cards or online identity in a deliberate attempt to be, well, unreachable. Yet he is forced to emerge from this self-imposed exile after five random civilians are shot dead, and the chief suspect - also a soldier - asks for him by name. Reacher is reluctantly drawn in to the case, despite wanting the man to be found guilty after having investigated him for war crimes several years earlier. But he soon realises that the case is far from being open and shut, and that there is a greater threat at large.
Cruise has always had a magnetic screen presence, and it stands him in good stead here: once Reacher arrives he’s hardly ever off screen. The character could be seen as a latter day version of one of those pulp heroes from the early part of the last century, like The Saint or The Falcon; the devil-may-care loner who appears (almost supernaturally) from nowhere, stumbles upon a crime, rights some wrongs, solves the case, gets the girl and disappears again. There’s also a touch of John Rambo mixed in – the disillusioned veteran who turns his back on the military after coming home, searching for something to believe in again. McQuarrie’s script happily digs in to this, having Reacher evade and outwit the police, spot clues they didn’t notice, and anticipate plot points before they’ve happened. In other words, it’s a pretty standard mystery thriller dressed in modern clothes.
That said, it’s a well executed one. It’s clear from the outset that Werner Herzog’s Zec is mixed up in whatever dirty business is afoot, but McQuarrie keeps the rest of the conspiracy comfortably shrouded in question marks for much of the running time. A good cast strewn with red herrings also helps: Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo and the ever reliable Robert Duvall all pop up to muddy the waters, while Rosamund Pike as Reacher’s employer and ally provides a touch of glamour as well as potential love interest.
McQuarrie the director is no slouch at generating a bit of suspense either, but it’s the streak of underplayed humour that makes this such an enjoyable first outing for Reacher. Whether it be Cruise beating up a group of youths outside a bar or getting beaten up himself inside a bathtub by two incompetent henchmen, tongue is often not far from cheek. The glimpses of his off-the-grid lifestyle – no change of clothes, which means washing his shirt at the end of every day – also help endear him to the audience. In truth it’s not the snappiest of thrillers: the pace sags a little towards the end, and those used to seeing Cruise in high octane mode may well go away disappointed (despite a punchy climax). But it’s their loss. It isn’t meant to deafen you in to submission; it’s more durable than that. Let’s hope further adaptations of the series are forthcoming.