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Movie Review: 'Jack Reacher'

By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- He's sort of a hero, sort of a superhero, and sort of an anti-hero.  Sort of.

He's former military investigator Jack Reacher (played by Tom Cruise), now a loner and a drifter and an unencumbered minimalist without ordinary possessions, who lends his name to this brutal murder mystery.

Jack Reacher offers a titular protagonist who dispenses justice as a one-man vigilante squad.  It's based on One Shot, the ninth out of a series of 18 best-selling Lee Child novels, and finds Reacher investigating a case involving sniper killings.

(2½ stars out of 4)

The film opens with a tense scene as a sniper kills five seemingly random passersby with six shots from the top of a parking garage at Pittsburgh's waterfront promenade.

It doesn't take long for the police to apprehend former military sniper James Barr (Joseph Sikora), who refuses to talk but instead requests that he meet with Jack Reacher, whom he knows from their Iraq War days.

Contacted, off-the-grid Reacher shows up, but not as Barr's friend.  Instead, he jumps into an investigation of the five-person homicide, believing that Barr is also guilty of a crime he committed and got away with years ago because of a technicality.

It would seem, then, that someone's been set up.

But by whom? And why? Reacher smells a coverup.

Rosamond Pike plays Barr's attorney and Reacher's potential love interest, eventually teaming up with him while she goes up against the district attorney (played by Richard Jenkins), who just happens to be her father.

David Oyelow plays the case's lead investigator, and Robert Duvall turns up in a key cameo as a gun store owner.  And accomplished German director Werner Herzog is cast –- memorably, it turns out –- as a shadowy survivor of the Soviet Gulag and a campy but chillingly pitiless villain.

Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (The Way of the Gun), a best-original-screenplay Oscar winner for The Usual Suspects, adapted the Child novel, having collaborated with Cruise previously as the co-scripter of Valkyrie.   His film combines a puzzle-solving mystery with exhilaratingly choreographed fisticuffs in an arresting if sometimes confusing way.

To his credit, McQuarrie does not take the material all that seriously, so there is room for self-deprecating humor: the film sometimes seems almost a sendup of its genre.

Yet the director avoids the shallow shoot-em-up approach and makes sure to include and display the repercussions of the graphic and extensive violence on display.  That is, he doesn't so much apologize for the violence as follow through on its implications.

In other words, as in life, after acts of violence, consequent mourning ensues: this is not a mindless action flick, but a thinking person's thriller, even if it does include gun-violence footage that's difficult to process in the light of recent, tragic real-world events.

Cruise, also a producer and not exactly a physical match for the very tall protagonist of the books, finds his own way to be a large, imposing, bare-knuckled force.  He's fine as a silent, violent outsider of an action star, commanding the screen authoritatively with the kind of intense Cruise control that reveals barely suppressed anger always close to bursting through his veneer of civility.

So we'll reach for 2½ stars out of 4.  As a sufficiently compelling thriller, Jack Reacher could be the first installment in a new action franchise, with Tom Cruise bidding to become a Reacher of habit.

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