Film adaptations by their nature are usually quite contentious; the joy many experience when reading a piece of literature is often found in the freedom to interpret the literature as they please. Film adaptations do away with this and provide a singular interpretation that will inevitably tread on someone’s toes. As such, Jack Reacher will inevitably make many enemies for itself, but not only for its errors of adaptation.
The Jack Reacher book series focuses on an eponymous ex-military policeman and his various escapades across America, usually involving the dismantling of elaborate criminal networks. Adapted from the 2005 novel One Shot, it sees the hero being summoned to prove the innocence of a sniper after he’s wrongly convicted of killing five people with six shots. The greatest success of the novels is that they captures the strengths of the detective genre perfectly; they’re dark, thrilling and work extremely well within its confines.
As such, the adaptation of the novels has aimed to do roughly a similar achievement. Stylistically, Jack Reacher aims for the greats of the detective thriller genre; Bullitt, Dirty Harry and The French Connection are all referenced in various ways. However, in doing so it serves to deny the film its own sense of identity and is perhaps its greatest failure.
The casting of Cruise as the titular character was a curious decision at best. Names such as Liam Neeson (who was impaired by being too old) and Dolph Lundgren (who was impaired by the unfortunate fact that he can’t act) have long been thrown around by devotees of the novels as potentials for playing Reacher. As such the casting of Cruise (5’ 7”) as Reacher (6’ 5”) was seen by many as a fundamental break from the character. Cruise, who often takes on roles as the everyman (hence all the fucking baseball caps), has played darker characters in the past – Collateral, Magnolia – but the darkness necessary to play Reacher seems a little beyond him, and not just in terms of height.
In many ways Cruise is the primary factor that determines the fate of the film. He plays Reacher with a severity that the character deserves, but the film doesn’t really reciprocate this severity. Instead it borders on the ridiculous. With lines like “I mean to beat you to death and drink your blood from a boot” and the theatrical introduction of The Zec – played by Werner Herzog – it’s difficult at times to keep a straight face. Fundamentally, it’s this lack of synergy between Cruise’s performance and the film’s tone that prevents Jack Reacher from being a strong start to this newly christened franchise.
Nonetheless, I feel like I’m drawing too much attention to the film’s weaknesses, when it does display a range of strengths. The action sequences mirror those of the book with considerable accuracy; in the gunfights he neatly takes down his opponents and in the fistfights he mercilessly and savagely beats his enemies into submission. It pays significant attention to Reacher’s shrewd detective skills, and is brave enough to simply have the two main characters discuss Reacher’s theories, allowing for space between the action sequences.
Ultimately, I was left divided over what I thought of Jack Reacher, as have both fans of the novels and those newly introduced to Mr. Reacher himself. For a film which tries to appease both of these audiences it unfortunately won’t entirely please either, but I can’t get away from the fact that I enjoyed it. I’ve never thought of the novels as masterpieces and as such I do not expect the film series to be as well. Teething problems aside, Jack Reacher offers the potential of what could come to be a successful and fully formed franchise.