"You think I'm a hero?" growls Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher down a public payphone, throwing down the gauntlet to the man who’s just (unwisely) framed him for murder.
“I am not a hero. I’m a drifter with nothing to lose…”
Snarling, steely-eyed and laced with intent, it’s Cruise’s boldest performance in years – using every bit of his towering screen charisma to bring the 6ft5in literary man-mountain to life, despite fans’ misgivings over his admittedly smaller stature.
As author Lee Child says: “Reacher’s size is a metaphor for an unstoppable force, which Cruise portrays in his own way…”
Based on Child’s ninth Reacher novel One Shot, Christopher McQuarrie’s throwback detective drama sees Cruise’s ex-military policeman pick up the case of James Barr, a former army sniper accused of gunning down five innocents in a seemingly random attack.
Reacher’s not convinced the case is quite as open/shut as it seems, though, and his investigations uncover a sinister conspiracy headed up by shady Euro baddie The Zec (a frustratingly brief but brilliantly barmy turn from maverick auteur Werner Herzog) and his loyal henchman Charlie (Aussie up-and-comer Jai Courtney).
Straddling a fine line between hard-hitting grit and ’80s-vintage cheese, Jack Reacher manages to recall an old-school action-thriller vibe without dipping into an The Expendables-style pastiche.
Like Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan and Bruce Willis’ John McClane before him, Cruise’s determined, archetypal anti-hero couples eye-gouging, neck-snapping brutality with a series of killer one-liners (“I mean to beat you to death and drink your blood from a boot!”) as he embarks on a one-man quest for justice – aided by Rosamund Pike’s ambitious defence attorney and Robert Duvall’s affable marine vet.
McQuarrie meanwhile, here directing for the first time since 2000’s The Way Of The Gun, handles the exposition and action with equal aplomb. Building on the promise he showed with his directorial debut, The Usual Suspects writer does an admirable job of streamlining a fairly tricky narrative, neatly negotiating the story’s twists and turns while offering up a handful of tense and memorable set-pieces.
Take the film’s bravura opening, for example, which gives us a sniper’s-eye view as the gunman carefully picks out his victims before taking them out one by one. Filmed entirely through a distant, rifle-scope lens, McQuarrie amplifies the horror of the carnage unfolding on the ground in one of the most chilling movie prologues in some time.
When Reacher finally arrives on the scene, though, McQuarrie throws us headfirst into the middle of the action…
An early street fight sees Jack taking down a group of untrained goons with ruthless, bone-crunching efficiency (employing, as one of the disc’s three featurettes informs us, a fighting style developed by Spanish gypsies), while the film’s standout salvo puts us right alongside Cruise as he throws an increasingly battered red Chevy around the streets of Pittsburgh in pursuit of Courtney’s lackey.
Fast, furious and shot with a CG-free ferocity (with the stunt-happy star sitting firmly in the driving seat), it’s up there with the best movie car chases - soundtracked almost exclusively by the thunderous thrum of Reacher’s muscle motor.
The film isn’t without its flaws though - the climactic shootout for one is a rather more generic affair, resolving one key thread with more of a whimper than a bang, but its wit, intensity and a magnetic star turn from Cruise win through.
On the evidence of this, it’s no surprise that the actor is rumoured to be reuniting with McQuarrie for Mission: Impossible 5; if the pair’s enthusiastic Blu-ray commentary is anything to go by, they’ll have a blast making it, too.