Ok, I got quite a lot on "JACK REACHER". Spoiler-heavy review. Anybody care to debate? | THE FILMS OF CINEMA | Forum
So my first film of the new year is "Jack Reacher". And while it definitely nails "pretty good", it has some serious flaws for me that drag it down. Three, actually.
But let's first begin with what works. The supporting cast are all consistently good, with unexpected and welcome turns from Robert Duvall and Richard Jenkins. Neither of which gets too much to do, but they take their parts and do their best with them. The "thriller" aspect of the plot worked really well, with one big exception (more on that later on). As a police procedural, this movie works really well.
It also works very well as an action movie. There's one big car chase that I remember having impressed me. Tom Cruise can do these "lone man against the system"-type plots easily, and he's helped by some great scoring and direction. This is definitely a movie that had me on the edge of my seat for most of its running time. Finally, there's an unexpectedly great villain in the form of Werner Herzog. He doesn't have a large part, but for such a non-physical role, he's a pretty scary dude. It helps that his character isn't "built up" at all before he appears, so that when he does appear, he makes that much more of an impact. (Compare that to, say, "Skyfall", where the scariest man in the world turns out to be a gay version of Ruby Rhood from "The Fifth Element".) The wide-eyed astonishment on his face as he comments "They always choose the bullet..." is a really, really, really creepy line reading. I also really liked his henchman, played by Australian actor Jai Courtney, who gets the award for "most recognisable actor that you probably won't remember the name of".
So I definitely liked this movie, but it has three huge flaws. Let's go in order from the least worrisome flaw to start with, to the almost film-destroying one at the end.
First flaw (the "minor but significant" one): the twist that one of the investigators is actually working with the enemy. This aspect of the film is only brought up late on (although you'll probably guess it sooner), and relies upon a totally lazy cliche that I've seen done about fifty times before (in, to name but a few films, "Kiss the girls", "U S Marshalls", "Prime Suspect", "Antitrust", "Charade", "Minority Report", and many many more). And it doesn't even do anything particularly new or interesting with this cliche. It's not like the guilty character is just somebody pretending to be an investigator - he actually is a respected official. So why the heck he would ever join forces with Herzog is anybody's guess. He hints that it's not about money, says he didn't have a choice, and then intimates "You'll understand". And then gets shot. How did these guys even meet? How would their paths ever cross? None of this is explained. The whole twist thing just feels forced, lazy and unnecessary. And the way Cruise eventually figures it out is just kinda dumb.
Second flaw: the Cruise. I've never read the books - don't know anything about them, in fact, except what I've read from you guys here. I remember some comments that Cruise was a bad choice for Reacher because a main point of the character is that he's large and physically intimidating. I didn't expect this to be a problem for someone who'd not read the books - I was wrong. Cruise's character is clearly written as physically intimidating, which is the absolute last type of role Cruise should ever play! To take two of his best roles: in the original "Mission: Impossible", which is one of my all-time favorite films, Cruise plays a chameleon who's able to change his identity at a moment's notice. In "Collateral", he's a deadly "invisible man" character whose greatest talent is staying in the background and letting others take the blame for his own actions. This is what Cruise is good at - so who thought it would be a good idea to use him in this way?
There's one scene in particular, where Cruise is talking with Reacher's character about what will happen when they meet, where Cruise absolutely has to sound intimidating. It's an understatement to say he doesn't pull this off. It doesn't help, either, that he just doesn't look the part. He doesn't look like a drifter, he looks like an urban cowboy. He looks clean. When he has a short scene in an expensive nightclub at one point, he looks as though he fits right in. He shouldn't.
Final and biggest flaw: Rosamund Pike. It's to the movie's credit that it's still enjoyable with Pike's character in it; because basically, every scene that she was in, I wanted her to go away. And this is a character who we're clearly supposed to like or empathise with.
I've gotten to the point now, I think, where seeing Pike's name on the credits of a film will make me look at it with trepidation. She was kind of annoying in "Doom", just a non-entity who kept getting in the way in "Die Another Day" - neither of which two films are a masterpiece - and she's flat-out terrible in this. Her character is HORRIBLY written. It's pretty much stated outright at the start of the film that her career as a defence lawyer is less of a case of moral crusader and more of a case of serious "daddy issues". As if to underscore this, her character seems to have the absolute worst possible reaction to every given situation. There's a scene where she visits the victims of the shooting that was - she believes - committed by the man she's now defending. She goes in without any kind of an idea of what to say or how to say it. I get that she doesn't want to do this; but now that she's agreed to it, shouldn't she have some kind of an idea what she's actually going to say? There's being overawed by a situation, which is what I think they were going for, and then there's being just flat-out dumb and ineffective, which is what we actually got. The result is I don't believe this character has learnt anything from the experience. I mean, this is clearly supposed to be a scene demonstrating character development, or learning, or something. Again, it's an understatement to say it doesn't pull this off.
But let's talk about the acting. Pike's expression throughout this film is a kind of deer-in-headlights wide-eyed open-mouthed vacant stare that conveys about as much emotion as an advertisement for toilet roll. Whenever the film requires her to do anything else, she does this obnoxious thing where she starts talking in a loud, aggressive tone but not quite a yell - sort of speaking very pointedly but without ever giving the impression that there's an actual point to it. I don't understand why she does this, but it's incredibly annoying.
And here's some other things I don't understand; for example, why the filmmakers thought it would be a good idea to have her immediate reaction to the delivery of some fairly compelling evidence of her client's innocence directly to her office to be "You're crazy, get out of my office". (Thereby again underlining the point that it's not moral strength that causes her to do what she does, it's daddy issues.) Or why she then fails to tell Reacher about a vital piece of information that could help him and save her ass. Or why she does something so mind-numbingly stupid at the end of the film, she might as well walk out into the street with a giant neon sign pointing at her saying "Easy hostage delivery! Get your hostage here!" I could go on, and on, and on... basically this character is terribly written and acted. When the rest of the writing of this film is very good, I don't understand how this happened. I could understand if the point was she took the case for the wrong reasons, but then learnt to reevaluate her motives and experienced character growth, etc, but again, I can't see any evidence of this. Just a horribly written character.
So that's Jack Reacher. Loved the villains, liked the thriller and detective elements, thought the action scenes worked well, but thought Cruise was totally miscast, couldn't stand Pike, and thought the "whodunnit" subplot was lazy and kinda pointless. Definitely a mixed bag of a film, but also definitely worth seeing.
Should preface by admitting I've never read any of the JACK REACHER literature. I did read this WSJ article by Lee Child, though:
All authors want good reviews, and praise for "natural dialogue" is especially welcome—but especially bizarre. Because dialogue in novels isn't remotely natural. If you listen to real people really talking, you hear endless repetitions, stops and starts, incoherencies and vocal placeholders ("um, er, like, you know").
Novelists are in the business of making strange, economical black marks on white paper, in a wholly stylized way that bears no relation at all to everyday truth, hoping to suggest accent and emphasis and tone and emotion. In the process, by a hugely circuitous route, we hope to produce "natural dialogue." And we sometimes succeed.
Plucking "Alibi" by Joseph Kanon randomly from my shelf and opening at a random page, I see this line: "Well. Enough of that. Do you have a cigarette?"
Nine words, no fancy punctuation, but immediately we know it's a woman talking—in 1945, when the book is set, only a woman would ask for a cigarette that way—and we know the preceding conversation was painful.
The prim "Well," followed by the period, is a closing-off, a drawing of a line, emphasized by "Enough of that," and the second period is a repetition that lets us hear a tight little sigh, perhaps with a blink or a turning of the head.
Again, randomly, from John Sandford's recent novel, "Stolen Prey": "What a day," Lucas said. "What a sad day. I'm sorry for David and for you. So sorry."
We know by this point that Lucas is Lucas Davenport, the main character in the series, and from the 16 words he says, we know that he must be the lead investigator, entitled to and even expected to dispense comment and sympathy. He's human and empathetic.
The designator "Lucas said" throws weight to the preceding short sentence and gives it a rueful fall. The next near-repetition puts weight on the added "sad," and the repetition of "for" in the third short sentence gives a doomy cadence. The final "So sorry" tails the whole thing off into a patient, frozen human moment in a frenzied murder hunt.
As I said: black marks on white paper, suggesting accent and emphasis and tone and emotion.
And rhythm. Every word in a book—dialogue or not—must propel the reader irresistibly forward. I take a lot from rock 'n' roll lyrics. I want that kind of subliminal, pulsing backbeat. Think about this line from Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode": "There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood."
"Made of earth and wood" is a luxury in such a fast, tight song. The narrative point could be well made without those words: A poor boy is going to make good. The log cabin is enough. But the extra words throw the whole thing forward, to what we know is going to be a rhyme. They build a flowing momentum.
Dialogue in novels doesn't—shouldn't—rhyme. But I try to capture the same kind of momentum. In my latest novel, my longtime protagonist Jack Reacher advises an FBI agent to place a precautionary phone call.
She replies: "You mean, if we fail to get the job done and I'm the only survivor?"
"Obviously there's a number of possible outcomes."
"And that's one of them?"
"That's two of them. We might fail to get the job done with no survivors."
I hoped that the three internal "rhymes" in that passage—done, one, done—would serve as little motors to speed the reader to the end of the chapter, as well as raising the narrative stakes in the conventional literary sense.
And, of course, rhythm—and the characterization of a taciturn man—sometimes calls for silent beats. Hence a frequent line of "dialogue" in all my books:
"Reacher said nothing."
—Mr. Child's most recent Jack Reacher novel is "A Wanted Man."
The movie probably isn't as good as the best REACHER books, but, watching it with zero expectations and a pre-forgiveness for what I knew was nerdrage-bait in the casting of Tom Cruise as a gigantor character (Cruise produced it, too, so the movie never would exist w/o him.), I liked it a lot. One of the top 20 movies of 2012.
Paul, you might be right about Rosamund Pike's "deer-in-headlights wide-eyed open-mouthed vacant stare," but I suspect some of that was on purpose, b/c the movie was holding out the possibility (until she gets tased & kidnapped, at least) of a big surprise twist that *she* was involved with the bad guys. Most of the time, I, uh, wasn't exactly staring at her, ahem, face eyes, anyway. I don't disagree with the other issues you raise, but none of it much detracted from my enjoyment.
I was blown away by the shockingly violent, wordless opening sequence. Like, it's intense. Reminded me of that infamous CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE #WHATEVERSEQUEL airport massacre level. (You didn't have to participate in that mission, by the way, just witness it.) Almost sickening, but sickening in a good way if that makes sense.
Then the procedural/badass narrative kept me guessing & learning & laughing through every revelation, and I loved how the film doesn't mind admitting that it's shoehorning in fight scenes & "how badass is he" moments, yet it finds ways to still make those parts clever, tight, & significant to the overall narrative.
The visual style isn't dazzling; it's probly what Vern might call "meat & potatoes" filmatism. That's a good thing. JACK REACHER could be mistaken for a solid Clint Eastwood directational effort, like BLOOD WORK.
The catharsis of the villains' comeuppances is a bit undercut by the fact that they are a bit underdeveloped (though this is forgivable, due to the need to maintain their mysteriousness until the end), but this is that rare film that gives you the feeling you just finished a good book, as well as a good movie.
And yeah, coulda used a lot more Werner Herzog, but isn't that true of every film?
Oh, the opening scene with the sniper was fantastic. No doubt about that. It's moments like that that made me want to give the film a bigger recommendation than I eventually did. If it wasn't for the two main characters and one dumb plot twist, I would've said this was a damn-near classic film. As it was, I definitely liked it but as a 2012 release it's up against a ridiculous amount of fantastic films, and it's inevitably going to look worse than some of them by comparison.
I don't think we were ever supposed to regard Pike as a "suspect", despite her rejection of Reacher's evidence. I think Pike is to me what Megan Fox is to many other people. From the few films of hers that I've seen, I just cannot understand why she keeps getting roles like this. Of course, I've probably seen only the very worst of her films (although "Jack Reacher" was very good, despite her character in it) and I'd like to see what she can do when she is given a well-written character. It's a shame actually, I thought there were a few ways that her character might have undergone some kind of arc or learning process, but I never got the sense that she actually did. She was just a plot device. Add the sheer annoyance factor of her whole voice / facial expression thing that I pointed out (and it was REALLY annoying - seriously, what the heck is up with her mouth? And how come she sounds like a cartoon nagging wife every time she wants to make a point?) and I felt that effectively the most important character in the film was misplayed. This isn't really Reacher's story, it's Pike's. When the focal character of the film comes off as less likeable than the girl who sets the hero up for a beating on the word of a drug dealer, you've got a problem.
Would like to see what Vern makes of this one.
Ok, continuing this from the "Parker" discussion.
Charles - watch the original "Mission: Impossible" again and then tell me that Jack Reacher is the better character in comparison to THAT Ethan Hunt. (You know, the guy who still holds the crown for "best skilled everyman protagonist in any movie I've ever seen.") Although you will have trouble making yourself heard over the gales of derisive laughter coming from my general direction. It's not that I don't think Reacher is a good character - I think he's a great one, although we both agree he's miscast - but look at what he's up against here. NOBODY beats Ethan Hunt from the original "Mission: Impossible" film. You have to go back to Kurt Russell in "The Thing" or Donald Sutherland in "Invasion of the Bodysnatchers" to find another protagonist who even comes close to being played so perfectly, directed so effectively, and just fit to the film he's in as well as Ethan Hunt #1 does.
The sequels, on the other hand... By "MI:3" the totally perceptive, observant, chameleon-like bundle of restrained passions and total self-control that was Hunt in the first film had become some brainless tough guy following his dick around. That is one of the many, many, many reasons I hate MI:3 with a burning passion; but I'm not even going there, I've said my piece before in other threads about how the third installment pretty much destroyed my hopes for this franchise.
BUT if you are saying Jack Reacher is a more compelling character than the Ethan Hunt of any of the three sequels, then yes, I would absolutely have to agree with you there. Reacher is at his absolute best when he's piecing things together to try and work out a problem. (As opposed to when he's trying to shake somebody down for information or intimidate them.)
All right, saw it tonight.
What everyone else said, really. The Reacher in this screenplay, just like in the books, is a physically imposing guy who often intimidates people into doing what he wants because it's the simplest and quickest option. And Cruise, bless his soul, cannot play imposing. McQuarrie tries a lot of low-angle shots to make him seem bigger, but it's wasted effort. Rosamund Pike's character seemed too twitchy and shell-shocked (in fairness to Pike, she wasn't helped by her dialogue, the wide-eyed close-ups, or the ominous booga booga music throughout many of her scenes). What else? There were a couple of annoying Let Me Outline My Character Motivation moments in the script where people explain subtext that was pretty obvious to begin with.
But that's it, really. There's also lots of great terse, wise-cracking dialogue, beautifully shot action scenes, and good moments from a fine gallery of character actors. The opening massacre is really unnerving — we spend what seems like forever watching the gunsights flick from person to person, lingering for a few seconds and then moving on, while we wonder who he's actually going to shot ... and the answer, as he starts firing and tracking the sights back along their previous path, is more or less everybody.
Anyone else spot Lee Child as the police desk sergeant?
Paul: I think the implication was pretty clear that Emerson had turned traitor because he was terrified of the Zec, probably because of threats to his family. We can presume that the Zec targeted Emerson directly because he wanted control over the homicide investigation. (Granted, this doesn't explain how he'd know that Emerson would be in charge. I have vague memories that the book offered some kind of rationale there, but of course a film has less space for squeezing in details like that.)
Mouth: Funny you should mention Blood Work, a great example (unlike Jack Reacher) of a film that lobotomises its source novel. Most of it is actually pretty good, but it collapses from the stupid Hollywood insistence on having the main villain be someone we're already very familiar with as a major character.
I really did not know anything about JACK REACHER going into this other than it was based on a book and Tom Cruise was in it. I liked it, however the plot is too predictable considering it is a detective crime mystery sort of thing. In fact you can guess the plottwist in the opening sequence and then the motives behind everything is so uninteresting and badly explained ( I cannot remember anything really)that it ruined the detective part of the movie. Also Tom Cruise is out of his depth here, completely unconvincing as an apparently intimidating tough guy.
However, it´s never boring, has a lot of funny moments and good action so it wasn´t a complete waste of time.
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