|Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) in Jack Reacher.|
By John Esther
Released one week after the shooting massacre in Newtown, CT, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie's Jack Reacher opens up with Charlie (Jai Courtney) aiming his high-powered rifle at several people going about his or her day in Pittsburgh, PA. Amongst the possible targets is a young girl (Sophie Guest).
One can feel the tension in the theater. It may be too soon to show such images, but studios have to follow their release schedule.
Then Jai starts shooting, killing strangers from thousands of feet away.
Given the recent tragedy that took 26 lives at one elementary school, there is a haunting element to the movie. Fortunately, in this movieland the police move in and immediately apprehend the suspect, Army sniper James Barr (Joseph Sikora). Blatantly guilty to the powers that be, DA Rodin (Richard Jenkins) will seek the death penalty for James Barr. On another hand, the DA's daughter, Helen (Rosamund Pike) will defend the mass murderer. Before he gets beat up in custody, all James Barr has to say is: "Get Jack Reacher."
A sort of modern-day Malpaso Man, Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) lives, breathes and sleuths on the peripheries of society. No bank account. No drivers liscense. No address. You do not find Jack Reacher; Jack Reacher finds you.
As a fellow vet who encountered Barr before, Jack Reacher joins forces with Helen to help James Barr, promising to help her if she does the "unorthodox" thing -- as an attorney for the defendant -- by talking to the families of the victims. As a result, certainty commences to unravel.
Clearly Helen is out of her league while nobody is in league with Jack Reacher. Helen becomes bait while Jack Reacher swears to drink a bad guy's blood out of a boot. We all know it will be drinking time real soon.
Based on the character created by Lee Child the film is a bit confused on where it stands on issues of brutality and revenge, but not where it stands on government efficiency.
In the beginning it is a fairly clearcut case of guilt for the DA (although the audience knows Jack Barr did not pull the trigger from the beginning) and there is no reason for a DA, one who has never lost a death penalty case, not to seek the death penalty for someone who appears to be blatantly guilty of killing six random people in cold blood. Do we even have to go through with a trial? Can we just hang him in the town square?
Well, the city officials may have been too hasty in their judgement, but, later on, Jack Reacher and the audience are certain he has the right people, so he will do the executing. Has he/we learned nothing? (There is an accompanying "Take the Law Into Your Own Hands" game to the movie.)
Then there is strange conclusion to a car chase scene where citizens in the street feel compelled to sheild Jack Reacher after he steps out of a moving car heading toward a police barricade. Maybe it is different in Pittsburgh, but if you cause a wild cop car chase in Los Angeles, you better hope the cops get a hold of you before the people do. That crap just pisses us off. But I guess cops are government, too (public union!), and are not to be trusted more than the sweaty, white male being chased by them.
One could also talk about the film's questionable racial narrative and the way it just turns a smart, passionate, professional woman like Helen into in increasing sexual object (her cleavage comes out for the third act) and the way other women in the film are portrayed -- "slut"; "addict"; and "adulteress" -- or how someone like Jack Reacher could get away with so many murders -- justified or not -- with impunity.
But why let things like the law, ethics and logic get in the way of yet another American tale of violence and retribution? It does not seem to off-screen.