Jack Reacher is what happens when Tom Cruise is unceremoniously deposited into something like a European crime thriller; the results are unexpected, but not unpleasant. Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, who is best known for his Oscar-winning screenplay for The Usual Suspects, has only directed once before: The peculiar The Way of the Gun (2000) baffled nearly everyone in its day but has since gained a small, passionate following.
Now McQuarrie brings that same slow, weird sensibility to the new Cruise vehicle, based on one of many Jack Reacher novels by British author Lee Child. Fight and chase scenes slip by with the timing of a Looney Tunes cartoon at half-speed, and with no music; the score only chimes in at the tail end of an exciting scene. The effect is like druggy displacement, with existential meaning lurking just beneath the surface. How can it not be so with Werner Herzog glowering in the movie’s corners as its chief bad guy, a scary Siberian prison survivor with the code name “The Zec”?
It’s constantly intriguing. Reacher (Cruise) is summoned to look at a case in which a former Army sniper suddenly killed five seemingly random people in Philadelphia. He works with a lawyer (Rosamund Pike) assigned to the sniper’s case, whose father happens to be the snaky D.A. (Richard Jenkins). David Oyelowo plays a police detective, and Cruise’s pal Robert Duvall turns up as a comical, cranky rifle range owner. Once again, Cruise giddily proves that he can both live up to, and subvert, movie star expectations. He’s truly a reacher.