Whereas Tom Cruise used to do good movies, it seems he’s recently decided to make himself the butt of jokes with roles in things like Tropic Thunder, Rock of Ages, and The Oprah Winfrey Show. So it almost seems a little surprising when he takes on a serious action movie that isn’t an unnecessary Mission: Impossible sequel, and a lot surprising when that movie actually turns out to be pretty good.
But you don’t really have to take him all that seriously because they decided to make him into a kind of a comic book superhero version of a detective. He plays the title character, a man who had been a brilliant military investigator before retiring and completely dropping off the grid. He won’t be found if he doesn’t want to be, but has an uncanny ability to show up at exactly the right time. Or exactly the wrong time, depending on your perspective. And this is just such a time.
When Jack was in the military, he investigated a case in which trained sniper James Barr (played by Joseph Sikora) snapped and killed a number of fellow soldiers. Jack put together an airtight case against him, but Barr walked with just a slap on the wrist to avoid exposing some embarrassing details about the men he killed. James was discharged and sent back to America, with the promise that Jack would be watching and waiting for another opportunity to take him down. And then Barr went on a shooting spree in his local park.
The problem is that it wasn’t Barr. There’s a mountain of incontrovertible evidence proving that it was, but the only people who know that are Barr (who is conveniently unable to defend himself because he’s in a coma after a nasty bout of police brutality) and the audience. Even his lawyer Helen Rodin (played by Rosamund Pike) doesn’t have any delusion of him being innocent — she just wants to try to get him sentenced to life in prison so that her district attorney father (Richard Jenkins) doesn’t get to send another one to death row.
Jack Reacher is kind of a schizophrenic movie, but in a good way. It can’t seem to figure out whether it’s a crime drama, an action movie, or a superhero movie, so it tries to be all three at the same time. It mostly pulls this off, except that Jack seems to be just a little too good at everything he does, and the Dark Knight vibe it puts out at the end feels pretty excessive.