Blu Ray Film Review: Jack Reacher

   Tom Cruise is an incredible actor. This is something that's often forgotten by many cinema fans who see him either in his public persona of a sleazy couch-jumper or as the face of a countless number of indistinguishable action films which all seem to blur, slowly, into one big mess of explosions and little else.

   Yet, a quick scan of his back catalogue brings us some of the medium's most extraordinary performances from his double whammy of Eyes Wide Shut and Magnolia, through to Born on the 4th of July and his winsome turn as the only palatable and beautiful aspect of the otherwise turgid Rain Man. Elsewhere he surprises with his versatility (his appearance in Tropic Thunder comes to mind) and, in noting this, the question remains: why doesn't Cruise just let the Action movie genre go entirely?

   In many ways, action films are a weight around Cruise's neck, impeding his career in the same way it does Nicolas Cage and the slew of romantic comedies that held back Matthew McConaughey for years until his recent critical rebirth. With these prejudices in mind I sat down to watch Jack Reacher - a film I assumed would follow in the footsteps of any one of Cruise's non-descript action films which preceded it. Instead, I found myself pleasantly surprised at the rather unusual feature which unfolded before me; a slow-burning movie which exists somewhere between the quiet menace of Drive and the tone (although not necessarily aesthetics) of Film Noir updated for the 21st century. It's a film which exists somewhere between anxiety and depression; sobriety, despite a couple of wisecracks, is the over-riding feel of Jack Reacher - something reflected by the expressionistic blue and black hues cinematographer Caleb Deschanel bathes many of the sequences in.

   Who exactly is Jack Reacher? As portrayed by Cruise, our nominal protagonist is a very modern anti-hero who seems to detest the role he's found himself in life; he wise-cracks but seems to do so in a resigned, monotone way; he appears apathetic to having to single-handedly destroy gangs in fights but does so any way. He's not exactly an enthusiastic ass-kicker but he's certainly the man you want on your side if a job needs doing. And, for the police of Pittsburgh, a job certainly does need doing: solving the mystery of why James Barr, a former U.S. Army sniper, has taken to picking off random civilians in a public area with no obvious motive. If one man can solve the crime, it's Jack Reacher.

   The film finds sadly itself falling down a labyrinthine, contrived plot-holes as the feature begins to wind up its myriad of mysteries; the real fun to be had, however, is the journey which takes us there featuring an array of dazzling set-pieces and stylised action sequences. As usual, Cruise, who keeps himself in incredible shape, appears to do many of his own stunts - something else the actor is vastly under-rated for in critical circles. In Reacher, he appears believably brutal in fight sequences, coldly dispatching of his foes with taut efficiency. He's also on the top of his game during a car chase sequence which, contrary to many similar scenes in Hollywood movies, is gripping and tense; McQuarrie composes the set pieces with a calm detachment, plumping for steadily held medium shots framed for long stretches, letting the audience breath in the ominous terror; a soundtrack consisting entirely of heavy engines gives a sonic impression of the smell of gasoline in a delightfully evocative piece of sound design.

   A personal highlight for this writer however was the gloriously unexpected bit of left-field casting in the form of German auteur Werner Herzog as the solemn embodiment of evil, his trademark Bavarian accent punctuating each sequence he features in with quiet menace. On paper the role could have bee farcical or cartoon-like but Herzog has a real gravitas and a way of conveying an other-worldly terror with very little in the way of grand-standing. Cast against Cruise at the top of his game, the duo make for a very interesting pairing which, along with some cerebral restraint by McQuarrie, make Jack Reacher a significant entry in the modern action film canon. It's movies like this which show why Tom Cruise perseveres with the genre.

* This film was kindly provided to me by Zavvi. You can purchase Jack Reacher on Blu Ray here.
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