Though movies are filmed months in advance of their release, the content is sometimes eerily current. In the opening scenes of Jack Reacher, a sniper trains his gun sights on innocent citizens walking along a sunny riverside path. One of them is a six-year-old girl. Though no one deserves to be the victim of a random attack, the depiction is particularly disturbing considering the film opens only a week after a gunman shot and killed 20 first graders in a Connecticut elementary school.
Other than this false start, Jack Reacher appears to be a move to make Tom Cruise into the next Hollywood franchise after the fashion of Jason Bourne, Alex Cross or Jack Ryan. As a result, the early part of the movie is spent introducing the ghostly character of Jack Reacher (Cruise), a former military investigator who took himself off the grid after returning home from military duty. Without a driver’s license, credit card, last known address or luggage, he moves below the radar until someone needs his help.
When trained sniper James Barr (Joseph Kikora) is accused of the aforementioned murders of the unsuspecting civilians, he requests Jack’s help before fellow prisoners beat him into a comatose state. Somehow Jack gets the word and shows up at the prosecuting office of District Attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins) only to discover that Rodin’s daughter Helen (Rosamund Pike) is defending Barr.
However Jack isn’t there to help Barr. Rather he’d like to see him suffer for the former murder of four men in a war zone. Working with the limited cooperation of police investigator Emerson (David Oyelowo), Jack starts his own review of the evidence and soon begins to question Barr’s guilt. Working with the wide-eyed Helen, Jack uncovers an even darker conspiracy behind the deaths.
At that point it seems this possible franchise might take after a John Grisham plot where intrigue and subterfuge drive the story. Unfortunately that only lasts long enough for a couple of guys with a baseball bat and crowbar to attack the hero. (Strangely, these two goons resemble The Three Stooges more than serious thugs but that doesn’t keep the rest of the film’s unnecessary violence from spiraling out of control.) Jack subdues his attackers with a thumb to the eye or repeated strikes to the groin. He also doesn’t hesitate to break a man’s hand or give a well-placed heel to the head. But his assaults are less gruesome than the leader of the criminals (Werner Herzog) who forces one of his men to chew off his own fingers. When he fails to do so, he is shot in the back of the head.
Sadly, the five victims at the first of the movie aren’t the only ones targeted. As Jack delves deeper into the underlying criminal activities, more people die as a threat to the military investigator. Pushing the limits of violence in a PG-13 movie, the filmmakers scale back on some other content, that includes mostly mild profanities, one strong sexual expletive and a crude term along with a brief backside shot of a woman in a thong and some sexually suggestive dialogue.
Like The Lone Ranger or Superman who inexplicably show up to save the day, Jack Reacher appears to have the same sense of timing. Although he is motivated to ensure justice is satisfied, he isn’t opposed to meting it out himself. Regrettably his vigilante approach to punishment likely won’t sit well with law officers in the future.
With plenty of unfinished business (like a kiss for the female lawyer), this script based on a book by Lee Child leaves little question that Jack Reacher will be back for another adventure. However, this mysterious protagonist is one hero many families will hesitate to introduce to their young teens and children.
Note: The working title for this movie was One Shot.