JACK REACHER. Why do we want to hit the main character?

I also wanted to punch Jack Reacher in the face. Not because he’s unbearable.

Maciej Poleszak

20 January 2024

Creating a successful crime thriller is no easy task. I wouldn’t want to sound like a broken record, repeating clichés such as “everything has already been done” or “filmmaking has changed nowadays,” but it’s hard to shake the feeling that there’s some truth in these phrases. In such cases, one can approach the matter from two perspectives: the plot or the style. You can try to surprise the audience with a mystery resolution, but it’s easy to overdo it, veering into self-parody by concocting multi-layered conspiracies and puppeteering organizations reaching from the curbsides to the top floors of towering corporate buildings. The second approach is (at least in theory) simpler – there’s no need to be overly original if the film has that “something” that captures attention and doesn’t let the audience look away from the screen. That “something” that makes the film stand out and remain in viewers’ minds long after leaving the cinema.

Unfortunately, “Jack Reacher” is at best “just another standard action crime thriller.” It gives the impression that the director either spent time in a different studio or paid homage to a zero-style of direction, relying solely on alternating the use of “action” and “cut” terms. There’s no idea in this film that would distinguish it from its counterparts, neither in terms of execution nor in the script. So what is the incentive to leave money at the cinema box office? Simply put, the names. In this aspect, I must commend the creativity of the team responsible for casting, as attaching Tom Cruise’s (who is also the producer) starry face on the poster is an obvious necessity for ensuring satisfactory revenues. However, they also applied a lure for viewers who enjoy a different type of cinema. I wonder how many people will visit the cinema solely out of curiosity, to find the answer to the question: “What the hell is Werner Herzog doing here?”

Plot-wise, the film relies on tried-and-true formulas. It begins with a crime – a mysterious sniper kills five random people strolling along a promenade near the river in broad daylight. However, he leaves enough clues at the crime scene for investigators to locate and apprehend him within a few hours. The accused refuses to testify, and the only thing they manage to extract from him is the handwritten sentence “Get Jack Reacher here.” The story then introduces archetypal characters such as the composed tough guy, an ambitious cop, a young idealistic lawyer, a prosecutor who has never lost a case so far, and a grey eminence with a dark past. And they all pretend that none of the viewers have met them before.

In this regard, the titular character fares the worst. In theory, he’s a tough, relentless ex-military policeman who has been traveling for the past few years, making sure no one can locate him. Of course, he always steps in when faced with injustice, much like David Carradine in “Kung Fu.”

Theoretically, this is a recipe for an instant cult figure. However, the film suffers from the SSZM syndrome (Trying Too Hard). Jack Reacher is perfect, indestructible, insightful, equipped with photographic memory, honest, righteous, and entirely inhuman. The screenwriters decided that in almost every scene, the titular character would be cool, tough, or engage in high-flown dialogue. As a result, he became an exaggerated collection of clichés, devoid of any human facets that would allow the audience to form a connection because every minute of his presence on screen is on display. It doesn’t help that Cruise, wandering around the film set, seems bored and half-heartedly delivers lines.

Of course, this is not a unique feature of this film alone. Vin Diesel in “xXx” also tried to be relentlessly cool throughout the entire movie. Movies like “The Expendables” are walking caricatures devoid of any credibility. Although, in favor of the latter, nostalgia works for a significant portion of the audience, including myself. A similar mistake was made by the creators of the recent “LockOut,” in which Guy Pearce was supposed to play a character akin to John McClane on a space station. The trailer promised entertainment in a great style with a character throwing several one-liners per minute. The film, during which the audience’s smile doesn’t fade for 90 minutes. And indeed, the film’s prologue with the sassy Guy Pearce is a small masterpiece and a perfect example of writing sharp dialogues. Then it’s the same, the same, and the same. The one-liners are thrown into the void, even if no one listens to them and they serve no purpose. There are so many of them in such a short time that they become unbearable, and the main character is someone you’d like to punch in the face.

I also wanted to punch Jack Reacher in the face. Not because he’s unbearable, but because he’s so damn flawless, even when he does something controversial at one point. The film concludes with an elevated, almost mythologizing narrative about his persona, and the viewer has the impression that Tom Cruise should be riding into the sunset on a white horse at that moment. Perhaps that would be an ending worthy of the glory he deserves.