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Jack Reacher is a mystery man. He came back from military service overseas and just dropped out of sight. But if you start looking for him, then he might suddenly pop up. That might be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on whether you’re a lawbreaker or a good guy.
I’ll say, that when I first saw the trailer for this film, that it looked like just another action-hero flick that we’ve seen a thousand times before. So I was pleasantly surprised to find the movie to be smarter than I’d expected.
The story concerns James Barr, a former sniper accused of shooting down five people in shooting in a Pittsburgh park. There’s all sorts of evidence to convict him, and it seems like an open and shut case. The only thing he’ll say in his defense is ‘Get Jack Reacher.’
Reacher shows up, and like the Sherlock Holmes type he is, points out all the holes in the “airtight” case against James Barr. But someone doesn’t like him poking around in their business, and they take measures to stop him from finding out anything important.
Jack Reacher’s tough, skilled in fighting, and very smart, but he’s not a regular action hero. There are some scenes, in particular a fight at the end of the film, that are standard fare, but most of the time Reacher does his fighting short, brutal and efficient. When attacked by thugs, he doesn’t spend a long time trading punches with them, he disables them quickly with moves like a thumb in the eye or by using another thug as a weapon. Reacher fights more realistically, but in a style some would consider a bit dirty. He also is more easily hurt and the after-effects of his injuries actually stay with him for a little while. When one of the bad guys hits him with a bat, he actually stumbles around and is disoriented. It’s not true to life I know that, but the filmmakers at least acknowledge the hurts he suffers during the film.
Nor is Reacher there to save the day every time something goes bad. Sometimes people that are involved end up dead despite his efforts to warn them or protect them in some way. I think this serves two purposes. First, it makes the bad guys look more evil, and second, it gives Jack more motivation to finish what he’s ended up being in the middle of. It makes the struggle more personal for him.
The Zec, the main villain of the movie, is a little flat for me. While he’s definitely set up to be a man who does whatever’s needed to get what he wants, it’s not really enough of a motivation to make him a great match for Reacher. They’re kind of mismatched, actually, which might be the point, but I’d rather the villain be someone that could match him both mentally and physically. The Zec’s henchmen are nothing special either, just a bunch of thugs that can’t manage a criminal empire on their own.
Reacher eventually figures out who’s actually responsible for the shooting and what it really means, but it’s kind of a letdown that it’s something almost pedestrian. That too, may be more realistic, but it takes some of the thrill out of this thriller.
But the end isn’t really the important thing here, it’s watching Reacher unravel the mystery, and that kept me engaged throughout the film. I haven’t read One Shot by Lee Child, the novel the film was based on, so I can’t say whether the film was an accurate representation of the book. But we all know how that usually goes. The film piqued my interest enough to pick up the book, which has been conveniently re-issued with Tom Cruise on the cover.