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Jack Reacher

Year: 2012
Production Co: Skydance
Studio: Paramount
Director: Chris McQuarrie
Producer: Tom Cruise/David Ellison
Writer: Chris McQuarrie/Lee Child
Cast: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Jai Courtney, Werner Herzog, Robert Duvall

There are two Tom Cruises in the movies. We most recently saw the first kind in Rock Of Ages, where he played a rock star who's become way too famous, rich and indulged. For similar examples, look at his work in Tropic Thunder as a balding, hirsute, violently angry movie producer, Magnolia as a self-help sex guru hiding daddy issues behind false cockiness and Interview With the Vampire, where he just didn't look or sound like Tom Cruise.

That's the Tom Cruise we see precious little of, because when he inhabits a character that's not necessarily anything like the real him (the essence of acting, after all) Cruise reminds us what a great actor he can be.

But the other Tom Cruise is when he wears normal hair, normal clothes and can do anything – even as a deadbeat dad in War of the Worlds he was the All American Hero. When he plays a 'normal' guy, the persona we all think we know about him – the intense, uber-confident, all-driving, all-fighting, all-loving alpha male who's too serious about his at-times kooky convictions – looms too large to ignore. Even though his voiceover as Jack Reacher in the trailer says 'I am not the hero', it's that second Tom Cruise we're watching – of course he's the hero.

As the other major figure in the trailer (a busted-up guy in a hospital bed) says, he's a kind of cop. In fact Jack Reacher is a former soldier, now a guy-who-plays-by-his-own-rules who shows up after a military sniper randomly murders five innocent people one sunny morning in an American city. Swift police action puts a suspect in custody that makes it look like an open and shut case.

Reacher presents himself to the investigators, District Attorney Alex (Richard Jenkins) and his daughter Helen (Rosamund Pike), a lawyer who happens to be representing the accused, asking to see the evidence.

He's convinced the case asks more questions than it answers, so with his new ally in Helen and quickly making enemies on the force thanks to his doggedness, Jack finds himself on the trail of a dangerous group of people.

The thing is, he's right. We know from the opening scenes the cops have the wrong man, and the real killer (Australia's Jai Courtney), is an army sharpshooter and a cold, dangerous guy backed by an enigmatic and very scary villain named The Zec (Werner Herzog).

If you know nothing about the books upon which the movie is based but you've seen the trailer, you might have seen Cruise staring over the wheel of a speeding Chevette with a damaged front end and thought it was an action movie. Far from it – there are a few action scenes (including the central car chase and a moody climax in a dark, rainy quarry at night), but it's a police procedural mystery thriller.

And while there's a lot of plot to be uncovered, there's not a real lot of tone. Writer/director Chris McQuarrie wrangles a deft storytelling both narratively and visually, you're just left wanting something more distinctive. There's a single very memorable scene thanks to Herzog's icy evil that will mean you'll never look at your fingers the same again, but the rest feels like a longer, bigger-budget episode of CSI with a few fight scenes.

Pike is firmly in damsel in distress mode, waiting for Can-do Cruise to come and save the day, kill the bad guys and try to convince us he's not the hero when in fact he's just playing the zillionth Man With No Name archetype.

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