Tom Cruise is always at his best onscreen when he doesn’t have much to say, can speak with his actions, and is in a role of a lone wolf against the world. Bingo. As the semi-vigilante justice keeper Jack Reacher, based on the protagonist from a series of books by Lee Child, Cruise has found a character that could feasibly be a sequel-able franchise. In what is presumably the first edition, Reacher takes on Pittsburgh and a labyrinth of evil involving a sniper mass murderer, corrupt cops, and a sinister corporate scheme requiring more than the usual legal means to mop up into some semblance of justice.
Enter Reacher, who is, as Cruise has said in interviews, “an analog guy in a digital world,” a former Army sharpshooter who has no cell phone, Internet-access devices, or credit cards but does have an off-the-grid DIY machismo going for him. In other words, he’s Shane for the urban age, swooping into town to exact his own brand of justice and then moving on, whereabouts unknown. To boot, while he knows how to wield weaponry and sharp-shoot with the best of ’em, he can, more tellingly, kick ass in hand-to-hand combat and outmaneuver the bad guys in a hopped-up Camaro (in possibly the best Hollywood car chase of the year, with Cruise actually behind the wheel).
If this profile sounds vaguely comic-bookish, so it is. In the film, director/screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie summons up an unpretentious and slightly pulpy texture, off to the right of arty impulses. The casting helps, from Cruise onward. Rosamund Pike glows and exerts apt muscle as a lawyer defending the presumed mass murderer, and she and Cruise generate some residual but surprisingly chaste sexual tension along the way. Still, some of the tastiest onscreen moments go to parts played by veteran film icons Werner Herzog as an über-creepy villain figure and Robert Duvall as a kindly gun guru.
When asked about his life as a secretive, off-the-grid loner, Cruise’s character deadpans, “It started out as an exercise and became an addiction.” The comment could turn out to summarize Jack Reacher’s world, screen-adaptation division.