Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Jack Reacher: The MOVIE; "To a ten year old, I'm huge"

I will not lie. I went to Jack Reacher: The MOVIE to hoot and mock and pour scorn, and discovered to my disappointment that it was merely a workmanlike vigilante thriller that overcame its stunt casting of an alleged midget in the role of a giant to deliver a perfectly unremarkable growling nemesis thriller which could just as well have been a couple of episodes of a network TV cop show set in Philadelphia.

Teh intarwebz were alive with the hilarity of casting notorious dwarf thespian (and actually perfectly normal sized) Tom Cruise in the role of Jack Reacher, a man defined by the fact that he's six foot five and built like the Incredible Hulk on steroids. And yes, it's funny, though not as funny as casting Verne Troyer would have been. Casting a guy well within the normal range of human clothing sizes just seems lackadaisical rather than outrageous. In making Reacher a character who by rights ought to have his own orbiting satellites, Lee Child should have made the role more or less uncastable, and thus the books more or less unfilmable. About the only actor I can think of in the right size range is Michael Clarke Duncan, who's disqualified partly by being dead and partly by being typecast as a magical negro when Jack Reacher is, ahem, not a negro, magical or otherwise.

Lee Child pulled off a feat of imagination few of his books have equalled when he welcomed Producer Tom Cruise's decision, after an extensive search of his own actual pants, to cast fast-talking-Oscar-nominated-slightly-below-average-sized actor Tom Cruise in the role of taciturn emotionless behemoth Jack Reacher, by saying "With Cruise you get 90% of the size and 100% of the character". Or words to that effect, since I can't find the quote right now. 

Weirdly, he's not wrong. Cruise is a better actor than he's given credit for (though I have a longstanding theory that one of the performances hailed as his biggest stretch, the emotionless killer for hire Vincent in Collateral, is in fact his real personality), and as long as the camera keeps in close on his face, he does a pretty passable job of selling the character of Reacher, a guy who thinks hard but communicates poorly unless he's allowed to punch people a lot. Whenever the camera pulls back, you have to grapple with the reality that Cruise is simply not big enough to be as physically imposing as Reacher, and this then makes a complete nonsense of everyone else's reactions to him. Never more so than when motel clerk instantly decides that of all her guests this week, the one guy who could obviously kill a girl with one punch is - Tom Cruise. Yeah, about that, really, no, not unless it was the kind of punch you can lace with cyanide. So you've got that suspension of disbelief thing nagging away at you the whole time, but I have to say that until the movie more or less waved it in my face with the motel scene, I was, if anything, sort of impressed by how restrained Cruise had been with an obvious vanity project. 

Because a vanity project is what it ultimately is. Reacher is a teenage wish fulfilment fantasy figure. He pulps all the bullies and gets all the girls and he never has to pick up after himself, what with his refusal to own a house, cook a meal or do laundry. He's every pimpled basement dweller's dream of what they could be if they just magically turned into superman without any intervening effort. (It's just such a bitch that potential is nothing without application. Man, if there was just some kind of way to harness all that wasted potential in the world's I-just-needed-a-break whiners, we'd all be living on the moon by now and cancer would just be a birth sign. But I digress). And there is just no manly pursuit at which Reacher has less than absolute mastery. He's a lover AND a fighter. Women want to be with him. Men want to be him.

And Tom Cruise, who has got more money than God (just like everyone else, really, since God is above money), has the resources to live the dream if he feels like it, though apparently it took the better part of six years before everyone had stopped laughing to the point where they could actually roll the cameras. Such is Cruise's ego that he seems to have sincerely believed that he could somehow put his own stamp on a well established fantasy figure who he looked nothing like. He thinks he's genuinely so good an actor that his talent could make up for 10 inches and 100 pounds of difference between him and the target of the performance. Damn, you'd think someone with that much talent would turn it loose on a more interesting character than Jack Reacher.

But having ranted all that, I have to concede; a lot of the time he pulls it off. He growls nearly as much as Batman, but for considerable stretches of the movie, he's not just giving you a sense of Reacher, he's making him look like kind of an asshole, which in real life Reacher would look like most of the time. And when I say that, I mean that I think Cruise was doing that on purpose, rather than doing things which he thought were cool, but actually weren't.

So, Cruise as Reacher; preposterous, pointless, but nothing like as gloriously and hilariously wrongbad as I had hoped. What of the rest of proceedings?

Well, it's ringer heaven. Robert Duvall is there, in the role of Deus ex Machina. What with him, Werner Herzog AND Richard Jenkins, that's three Oscar nominees and an Oscar winner, all marking time in a TV movie. Add in David Oyelowo and the always good-value Michael Raymond-James from Terriers. Nothing can be perfect without Walton Goggins, of course, but it's still an array of talent. And then - drum roll please - we have the other Oscar winner of proceedings. Step forward Christopher McQuarrie, who directed and wrote the screenplay. That's Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote The Usual Suspects, with its tricky and twisted structure and surprise ending which turned your expectations entirely on their head, though not as much as his subsequent career did, what with The Tourist and everything. The stunning twist in Jack Reacher: The MOVIE is that the bad guy from the beginning of the movie is evil every time we see him and turns out to have been the villain all along. I absolutely guarantee you that anyone who'd seen The Usual Suspects and not heard about what McQuarrie's been up to since would never have seen that coming. It's a tour de force of messing with audience expectations. They expect a zig, you give them a zag. Meanwhile, anyone who's ever read more than three Agatha Christie books or watched more than say, a season and a half of anything like CSI will have seen the punchline coming while they were still queueing up for tickets. 

In the end, it's a disappointment. It's not soaring lunacy, and neither is it an edge of the seat thrill ride. It's meh, is what it is. Even though there's a tonne of other Reacher books to make into movies, I'm betting that we've seen the last of Tom in the role. He's a go-big-or-go-home kind of guy, and this did not go big.

PS: I just noticed that one of the searches which linked to this post was "Jack Reacher appropriate for an 8 year old". Hell, no. Although the average 8-year old is probably a bit more morally evolved than the whole last act of this movie, it would still be an utterly horrible thing to show any kid. Although the camera cuts away from most of the actual killings in the movie, it's still clear just what's going to happen and it's not at all something I'd want any kid I know to watch.

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