Let’s get this movie’s big weakness out of the way at the outset. I’ve read most of the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child. Reacher is a monster of a man, described as 6-5, 245. He’s an imposing presence. When he walks into a room, everybody stops and looks.
Tom Cruise is not Jack Reacher. He’s 5-7 and I don’t know how much he weighs, probably not much more than 145 dripping wet. When he walks into a room, nobody looks. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie does lots of Hollywood stuff here to make Cruise look imposing. For instance, his leading lady, Rosamund Pike, is an inch and a half taller at 5-8½. In their two shots she’s always looking up at Tom, so McQuarrie obviously used the Alan Ladd (5-4½) peach box for Tom to stand on.
When people read Gone with the Wind in the 1930s, everyone pictured Clark Gable and the role of Rhett Butler. In fact Gable was so much the character of Rhett Butler that he was reluctant to take it on because there was so much pressure. When I read the Reacher novels, I pictured a young Tom Selleck or Clint Eastwood in the role. They are obviously too old to play it now, and I can’t think of anyone around who could comply with Reacher’s physical features.
But movies must stand on their own. And this one does pretty much. For some reason they started with Child’s ninth Reacher novel, One Shot. This is unfortunate because Reacher’s character was established in the first novel, when he is still in the Army. So when we meet him in this movie he is already a wandering loner without the viewer who has not read the books knowing why.
If you don’t already have an impression of what Jack Reacher looks like, Cruise does a passable job of impersonating a tough guy. He’s done it before in the Mission Impossible movies. Cruise is a good actor and he carries it off as well as possible.
This is kind of a knockoff of the early James Bond movies with lots of throwaway humorous lines, although it totally lacks the double entendres that made the first three Bond films so memorable.
Outside of the Cruise miscasting, the cast is terrific. Pike does a good job as the defense attorney Reacher helps, wearing low-cut tops with a push-up bra throughout the film, making her look almost Dolly Partonesque. Not that I’m complaining.
There are others in the cast, who add to the quality of the movie. Richard Jenkins plays Pike’s father who is also the District Attorney giving his usual fine performance. David Oyelowo plays an assistant district attorney admirably, although he was probably cast in large part because, at 5-8, he’s only 1 inch taller than Cruise. Werner Herzog, generally a producer and director, gives a surprisingly good performance as a chilling bad guy. Finally, maybe the highlight of the film, 81-year-old Robert Duvall appears near the end and comes close to stealing the film. He hasn’t lost a thing.
This is a fun, slam bang action movie with lots of bad guys for Reacher to conquer all by himself, undoubtedly the first in a series since Child has been prolific. But as good an actor as Cruise is, he is not Jack Reacher. They need to find someone appropriate for the role. Cruise as Reacher is like Mickey Rooney playing Rhett Butler.
Why Jamie Foxx is listed as the “star” of this film and Christoph Waltz is a “supporting” actor is a mystery. The movie is carried by Waltz; he gives by far the best performance; without him there would be no film worth seeing. Not only did writer-director Quentin Tarantino write the role specifically for Waltz, he wrote some of it in Waltz’s presence. He is in almost as many scenes as Foxx. All Foxx does is act angry throughout. Not to deprecate that, because Foxx gives a good performance, and he does what is required of him by the role, but it is something that just about any actor could accomplish. Even though both are Oscar®-winners, only Waltz gives an Oscar®-quality performance here. In that, he is joined by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Dr. King Schultz (Waltz), a bounty hunter, violently recruits Django (Foxx), a slave chained to other slaves, to help him track down two wanted criminals. In the process he befriends and partners with Django and becomes a co-conspirator with him to help him find his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who is a slave at Candyland, an infamous plantation owned by Calvin Candie (DiCaprio), with his slave overseer Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).
165 minutes might seem like a long time to sit through this rather simple tale. But the performance given by Waltz is so captivating, Tarantino’s script so well written, and his direction so well paced that the time flies by.
Unfortunately, the film is marred by a ridiculous Republic Pictures-style shootout at the end where thousands of bullets are shot at one of the characters with nary a one finding its target while that character, using only handheld six shooters, kills dozens of his attackers. While the entire movie is a cartoon of a story, a shoot-out like this is unnecessary. But this is, after all, Quentin Tarantino, and he must get his gore on film. Fortunately, it’s not quite as graphic as in some of his past pictures, but there is a lot of blood spilled.
Even so, due to Waltz and Tarantino, this is one of the more entertaining films of the year.