Friday, December 28, 2012
Heather Buckley Muses on Jack Reacher
Jack Reacher may have worked if it was shot in 1975 staring James Caan and Burt Young, but Tom Cruise is just not tough enough to deliver what the material needs. His Reacher may think he’s channeling Eastwood, but he just is not a badass. He’s Tom Cruise. Hollywood star. Wacky Scientologist. He couldn't bus Lee Marvin’s table at a bar. You need a grizzled worldly fucker in that role—quiet and weary, and yet a man of action—someone who challenges Henry Silva to arm wrestling and wins. Much like how the character is actually written by UK crime writer Jim Grant. In Grant's novels, Reacher is a mountain of a man, a typical pulp fiction drifter and anti-hero, a harsh character who knows the score. Bigger than life as these characters usually are; a sort of male superhero fantasy without the powers—but not a Cruise-style movie star.
You’d need that compelling, dangerous personality at the core because without it, Jack Reacher is only a typical crime drama. An ex-military guy, Barr (Joseph Sikora) with a shady past is blamed for killing a bunch of folks. Under police pressure to confess, Barr scrawls “Get Jack Reacher” on a piece of paper. Jack shows up to figure it all out and, of course, things aren’t what they seem to be.
Genre films potentially offer viewers both the comfort and the boredom of familiarity. The trick for creative people playing the genre game is to both deliver on and transcend the genre expectations. Compelling, eccentric characters delivering memorable dialogue in a stark cinematic world can completely distract the viewer from the creakiness of the scaffolding supporting it all. McQuarrie's script for The Usual Suspects is a powerful example of the game well-played; McQuarrie's work here ain't. Most of the characters in Jack Reacher seem jumbled together. There is no consistency in casting and the real gems of the movie get short shrift. That is Robert Duvall as Cash, the owner of a gun range Reacher visits on his quest for the truth and bad guy Werner Herzog. Right away I get their short-hand; I am captivated. Herzog with a blind eye and no fingers and Duvall as your right-hand-man when the shit goes down. I could have watched a movie just about them. But instead, Reacher wants to be about its plot and about launching Cruise as some sorta Jason Statham in a new franchise. The movie is deferential to Cruise's movie-star persona of unstoppable competence and overcompensates to sell him as a brutal tough guy, to the detriment of all other elements.
If it was the 90s I would say catch this one on Cinemax, but not now, when there is so much better tough-guy stuff readily available via DVD and various on demand venues. As I mentioned Caan and Young in my introduction, you could do worse then to see the original Killer Elite, or anything by Sam Peckinpah. He knew how to cast badasses and faces. Cruise should stick to saving unicorns—leave being hard-boiled to the professionals.