Jack Reacher opens with a point-of-view sniper sequence in which a lone gunman causes panic, killing multiple citizens from afar. This impressive, tense scene, as well as a few immediately following it, adds up to a completely dialogue-free opening stretch of roughly seven minutes that conveys a lot of information with very precise, lean visual storytelling. Christopher McQuarrie’s film does veer into expositional dialogue overload on occasion, but it is generally a worthy descendant of the sort of atmospheric 1970s thriller a director like Don Siegel might have been behind; the sniper plot and stoic, cool-headed enforcer protagonist alone certainly recall Siegel’s most famous effort Dirty Harry.
An adaptation of Lee Child’s novel One Shot, Jack Reacher’s narrative frequently leans towards the preposterous, but the film has a great sense of mood, with a stripped-back style and stark direction. Luxuriously paced, the over two hour film never drags thanks to its gripping atmosphere. It also embraces the silly elements on occasion, such as in a hallway bat attack with two incompetent hired goons, but these tonal shifts never feel detrimental, instead complimenting the film’s pulpy feel.
No aspect of the film is more representative of that pulp style than head villain The Zec, played by Werner Herzog. Striking fear into seemingly everyone he converses with, the Zec spent his first of many years in a Siberian prison wearing a dead man’s coat, and had to chew off all but two of his fingers to prevent the onset of frostbite. Herzog’s turn is a delight, particularly a possibly intentional reference to documented words from his real-life air rifle shooting in 2006: “Always a bullet, I don’t understand.” Sadly the role is also somewhat minimal in regards to screen time, with much of the heavy duty villainy left to Jai Courtney’s younger henchman, Herzog spending most of his time emerging in and out of shadows to scare someone with a monologue. It would have been very interesting to see the man face off with Tom Cruise’s Reacher on some sort of physical level, especially as the protagonist is similarly adept at memorable threats: “I’d like to beat you to death and drink your blood from a boot” is one line thrown Courtney’s way.
Cruise is quite terrific in his hard-shelled, lone wolf role, and Rosamund Pike is a charming presence in an admittedly limited role as the defence attorney finding she has to collaborate with this questionable military policeman. A car chase involving a pursuit of Reacher by investigator David Oyelowo and various police officers proves an action sequence highlight, thanks to engrossing, long unbroken shots and Caleb Deschanel’s lovely photography of rain-soaked, night-time Pittsburgh. The veteran’s cinematography is frequently impressive throughout the film, lending a silky quality to this hugely enjoyable thriller.