Jack Reacher

Airport novel / It's own parody
Released:
2012

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Starring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Davod Oyelowo

The Setup:

Super-ultra-mega-badass solves crime.

Discussion:

I couldn't quite get what the pitch was for this movie, as couldn't most moviegoers, as we judge from this film's poor box office, so I didn't have that much interest in it. But then a particular review mentioned how the film shows Tom Cruise walking by and women swooning, and described the whole thing as "instantly out of date," and then I became curious. And, having geared up to secretly snicker through Les Miserables, but found it sold out, this suddenly appeared as the next option. And this movie showed me a good time, although much of it was at the film's expense.

We open in Pittsburgh, with a man driving a white van to a parking garage, getting out, assembling a rifle, and shooting a bunch of seemingly random members of the public, including a woman carrying a small child. We get a good look at the killer's face, a handsome, unshaven dude in the manner of Maroon 5 guy. During the credits this guy is apprehended, and we also note that this movie is produced by Tom Cruise, and thus we surmise that this is another franchise he is attempting to start for himself, given that we know there is a whole series of Jack Reacher novels. BTW, in the novels Reacher is like 6’5” and hulking, which made some fans of the books annoyed at Cruise casting himself, but not having read the novels... I saw a number of other problems with Cruise's casting.

Anyway, the shooter is deposed, and careful minds will note, right up front, that it isn't the same guy. This is not a spoiler--the movie spoils itself, by showing it. The accused, Barr, scrawls on a pad "Get Jack Reacher," and by the time of the next meeting, Reacher shows up, his all-seeing off-the-grid ways knowing whenever anyone scrawls on a pad about him. Prior to this we have had a hunk of exposition about what an ultra-badass Reacher is, and you'll notice, if you haven't by now, that a recent requirement for being a contemporary badass is having served in Iraq or Afghanistan. We have also seen Reacher assembling his wardrobe, and catch a glimpse of a closet full of at least fifteen leather jackets, which is one of those things that makes this hero seem really 90s. Anyway, he shows up, is arrogant, and meets Richard Jenkins as the DA, David Oyelowo as Emerson, federal investigator, and Rosamund Pike as Helen Rodin, Jenkins' daughter. We also find out that Barr was beaten on the way into prison, and is now in a coma, conveniently silencing him for the duration of the case.

In here we have seen Reacher buy something at a convenience store, where the two female clerks look longingly after him as though saying "Mmm-HM, break me off a piece of THAT man candy," and seconds later, an elderly woman at a bus station smiles lingeringly at him as tough to say "You can punch my ticket any day, young man." Sadly, this is where the women-leering leaves off, although the film will continue to play as though Reacher is radiating some sort of unstoppable sex-force that renders women confused and delighted.

Reacher knew Barr back in Iraq, where--in Reacher's reconstruction--he spent two years as a trained sniper, sitting all day behind a rifle, waiting to kill, but never got to kill. So, in this kind of airport-novel logic, this made Barr thirsty to kill, and he took it out by killing four Iraqis, seemingly at random. But, as would happen, these wicked Iraquis had just emerged from the gang-rape of several women, "aged 54 to 11," so the case was swept under the rug. This kind of cynical attempt to gain sensation by working in these obscene public tragedies--mass shooting, Iraqi gang rape--also marks this source quite clearly as "airport novel."

So Reacher will team with Helen on the agreement that she go visit the survivors of the deceased and learn their real stories, even though her job is to defend Barr, presumed killer of said people. We see her at the father of the women who was killed with the child, and he is so incensed that she, who is trying to defend the killer, would come pick him for information, that he becomes quite aggressive and threatens her with a gun. She is forced to RUN from the house, makes it to her car, parked right out front, and is trying to start it as you're waiting for the guy to start firing from the house. Then, surprise, her dad, the DA, shows up--and they stand on the street, having a leisurely conversation. Umm--isn't there a guy twenty feet away who was just threatening you with a gun? Didn't you just RUN from a crazed gunman and now... you're going to just hang out nearby and talk?

Meanwhile, Reacher is having a meal in a busy bar, when a young woman slides into his booth and comes on to him hard. He rejects her, and another way this movie seems to be from an earlier time is the way he makes several comments branding her as a slut. He is suddenly surrounded by five guys claiming to be her brothers, they step outside, and Reacher is quite arrogantly clear that he is going to whup their asses and chivalrously offers them numerous chances to escape his wrath. He whups them. Five men against Jack Reacher, ha HA!

Reacher meets with Helen, and she gives him the back stories of all the victims, which also comes off as airport-novel writing, as they all have little dramas just the slightest bit too dramatic: two were having an affair, one was a single mom with a son failing in school, one had just made the decision not to sell her dead husband's construction company... no one was simply on their way to work, or something just ordinary. Then he tells her that the whole bar brawl was a setup, intended to get him out of the way, and we get confirmation of that moments later when we see Maroon 5 guy berating bar dude for botching the job, and introduce the big baddie, played by... wait for it.... WAIIIIT... Werner Herzog! He tells the guy that back in Siberia, or wherever, he was hiding out and his coat had a hole in the pocket... so he lost his fingers to frostbite. While you're reeling from the hilarity of the image of Werner Herzog standing with two fingers sticking out of his coat, because there is NO WAY he could just, say, tuck his fingers INTO the coat, he tells you that he then CHEWED OFF those fingers to survive! This is getting to be a knee-slapper. He wants the lowlife thug to chew his own fingers off, but when he can't, Maroon 5 guy kills him. Now if you've seen any of Herzog's recent documentaries and heard his voice, you know it could be a mega-hoot to have him be a sniveling mega-villain, but... it just doesn't come off here.

Meanwhile, Reacher goes to see Sandy, the one who came on to him in the bar, one of two women in the entire movie, both of whom have exactly the same highly-styled (i.e. distracting) hairstyle. She works at the auto parts store and is dating a guy who was involved in the setup, and sexual politics takes a reeling blow when Reacher says "You don't have to let these guys use you," and she replies "It's just what girls like me do." I'm sure feminists could examine the implications of that statement for a good long while, if anyone gave a shit about this movie. Jack tries to find the guys that set him up, which involves another big action scene.

< < < SPOILERS
Reacher and Helen, who perpetually has the wide-eyed expression seen below, have a big conference in which he tells her that Barr isn't the killer. The crime is too perfect. Which is what we learned in the opening shots. The initial scene with Herzog also mentioned something about killing five people to cover the murder of one, and you might be wondering why the screenplay is giving away it's secrets left and right. He also tells her to be careful around her dad and Emerson, because one of them is in on it. He tells her that if she does research on the case, others will be able to identify her. At that moment I realized that the one on it is Emerson, because of a quick comment he made about "muscle memory" that someone else repeated, and also because this movie's sentimental core, underneath all that conservative sexism, is that dad and daughter must have a sacred, affectionate bond.

Thus follows a big (big) car chase that goes on so long you start to pick apart the directorial compositions, but eventually involves six police cars and a police helicopter with a searchlight. It concludes when Reacher gets out of the car to join a group of about twenty people waiting for a bus, all of whom act nonchalant and mass around to hide him as the police arrive with lights blazing and helicopter, with one black man silently passing his cap to Reacher as disguise. As the bus arrives and Reacher is swept to safety, he returns the hat, and the black guy gives a conspiratorial "fuck the police" smile. All of this simply marks the material as old and out of touch, and with that scene, I'm guessing pre-9/11, because I find it highly doubtful that a group of twenty or more citizens are going to inexplicably side with a complete stranger that has attracted the attention of six police cars and a helicopter. Three days after a public shooting. Then there's the racial politics of the black guy helping the white guy evade the police, because what, we're all brothers when the police are after us? The author of this novel is living in some sort of conservative fantasy world, and then Cruise and buddies chose that as their vehicle to start a new franchise.

It wasn't til in here that it occurred to me: wait a minute, so there has been a random public mass shooting, and the media hasn't become involved AT ALL? There is NO coverage of the event? There are NO news profiles of the killer (we do see a newspaper article, but never so much as a reporter)? NO ONE is around, investigating?

In here Reacher specifically tells Helen, again, not to talk to her dad or Emerson, but you know, she's just a silly little woman, so she has done exactly that. She has also performed Internet research under her own name, which he also warned her about. You can see how, even though the ladies may beautify the lawyer's offices with their over styled ringlets, they still need a man to swoop in and save them. Meanwhile, Reacher has gone out to meet with Robert Duvall as an gun range owner, who, upon hearing that one of Reacher's parents was a Marine, says "Well then you're half-human." They team up, and it all leads up to this lengthy shootout at a construction site, Reacher dropping his gun to go mano-a-mano with Maroon 5 guy, and the whole thing being resolved after a lot of bother. One thing that was puzzling, is that there is a notable insert shot of Helen dropping her gun RIGHT next to the hand of the shot Emerson (she's just a dumb woman, after all), so you spend the next few minutes waiting for Emerson to rise up and try one last shot, but it never happens. But I'll bet you $50 that footage is on the cutting room floor. The film is over two hours as it is. Anyway, then it ends.
< < < SPOILERS END

So as much as I've ragged on it, that's not to say I didn't enjoy it. In fact, I pretty much had a smile on my face the whole time, because the story is pulpy and involving enough, and the rest of the time you can snicker at the movie itself. You have Cruise delivering super-arrogant lines and acting like he thinks he's a sex magnet, and the over-seriousness of the movie itself, and then ludicrous contrivances like the mass of people who see a white guy running from six police cars and a helicopter a few days after a mass shooting and then want to hide the guy. Or Helen having a relaxed conversation a few feet away from a crazed gunman who had just threatened her. Or villains who have chewed their own fingers off. It was all kind of entertaining, and when it wasn't, you can chuckle at it.

But the criticism of it being instantly out of date is exactly right, because it's gently wrongheaded in a number of ways. For one, it's essentially a bloated episode of CSI or Homeland. There is very little, if anything, that distinguishes this movie from current television. Then there's the right-wing politics--women are pretty but dim l'il fillies, in fact, some of them believe being "used" by men is their station in life, responsible people with guns (ex-military people) are more socially-responsible than others and form a kind of brotherhood of honor, blacks will help white strangers evade the police (in thanks for all the whites who have helped blacks evade the police, perhaps?), etc. And these politics, and Reacher's character, just mark the material as dated, irrelevant, and cheap airport novel material. And, let's remember, this is what Cruise thinks would make an awesome new franchise for himself.

As for Cruise, the problem isn't that he's short where the character in the novels is tall, but that this character is super arrogant. I can see that what's fun about the character is his outsized arrogance, and the fact that he can back up his arrogance and outsmart everyone. What I think is kind of the issue, though, is that Cruise's typical persona is very arrogant, so you don't WANT to like him in this role. To like him in this role requires the audience to affirm Cruise's real-life arrogance, and you just don't want to do that. He was charming again in Mission Impossible 4 because the plot undermined his arrogance at every turn, and he had to negotiate a lot of failures. But here you have a story that is asking us to affirm his arrogance, and you resist. I think the movie could have done better to cast someone with a naturally humble persona and then let the arrogance of the character come off with a hint of irony or humor. If Seth Rogan or Tobey Maguire were in this role, you'd chuckle affectionately when they spout off arrogant one-liners, then cheer for them when they carry them out. Here, when Cruise opens his mouth and spouts off some hyper-arrogant bullshit, you just think "Oh God, here we go again."

Ah well, so we've spent a good long time ripping every aspect of that movie to shreds, have we not? And this is because the movie was kind of fun, and it's fun to tear apart. There's really no reason to see it, what with stuff like this on television every day, but if you happen into it for some reason, just bring your healthy sense of humor and irony and it will show you a good time.

Should you watch it?

No reason to, but it's amusing enough if you do.

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