In 1995, Christopher McQuarrie gave us a little film called The Usual Suspects which ultimately became his first (and only, to date) Oscar win. Flash-forward to 2012, and the man is now also sitting in the director’s chair with a tensed-up, lightning fast Tom Cruise mechanically taking down the villainous duo of Werner Herzog and Jai Courtney in Jack Reacher.
It’s a tough call with Cruise. He’s an actor who, 99% of the time, is the best thing on screen in his films, even if the picture itself is less than gratuitously good. He’s been both the heavy lead and the small-part scene-stealer (2008’s Tropic Thunder), so it’s really stopped becoming a question of if Cruise is going to be “good” in a film. He’s very much become a presence that embodies a character without fully committing to it; that mix of Robert Downey Jr.’s monotonous-but-fantastic delivery with Brad Pitt’s magician-like persona that sort of molds into a specific character. He’s the actor you see the entire run-time, but he’s also somehow convinced you that he’s very much the character. And he’s good here, as always. By all means, if Tom Cruise needed it, Jack Reacher does for Cruise what Taken did for Liam Neeson.
As far as the rest of the cast goes, Herzog is a new shade of brilliance. The director, famous for his documentaries, is cruelly sedated and transfixed with purpose. He’s really delegated to do nothing but scowl and gutturally threaten those beneath him, but his transformation from bit-part to pack-leader is purely defined in presence, something most action movies attempt to do, but quickly scrap. And that’s really both a testament to his unwavering and scary delivery and casting director Mindy Marin’s eye for talent. Pike, Courtney, Jenkins, and Duvall all turn in veteran performances without being too glossy or too melodramatic. They’re a cast of perfect support for this film that’s only major sufferance lies in scope. No one feels like they’re phoning it in, and no one’s gunning for the Oscar. It’s a film that very much knows its identity.
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