Tiny Tom’s reach ex­ceeds his grasp

Werner Her­zog is the only prop­erly witty thing about this silly mys­tery, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - REVIEWS -

JACK REACHER ★★

Di­rected by Christo­pher McQuar­rie. Star­ring Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Werner Her­zog, Richard Jenk­ins, Robert Du­vall

12A cert, gen­eral re­lease, 130 min

Not since the last avant garde ex­per­i­ment by that Ukrainian fel­low has a film of­fered such a puz­zling as­pect to the wan­der­ing critic. Okay, that’s not quite true. The dilemma here is, at least, eas­ily stated: how much of Jack Reacher is ac­tu­ally sup­posed to be funny?

At one end of the quandary, we have the scene in which Mr Reacher, a wan­der­ing hard­nut played by Tom Cruise, finds him­self squar­ing up to five Ir­ish-Amer­i­cans in a Pitts­burgh bar. It is un­ques­tion­ably very amus­ing that none of them thinks to re­mark how, well, lack­ing in huge­ness their op­po­nent seems. We can, how­ever, safely as­sume that this is not in­tended as a joke.

At the other end of the spec­trum, we have the se­quences in which Jack trades stock bruiser quips with var­i­ous hood­lums who emerge from cup­boards to trip over their own feet. Th­ese se­quences are meant to be much fun­nier than they ac­tu­ally turn out.

Then, some­where in the mid­dle, there is the strange case of Werner Her­zog. We have had to wait un­til the least week of De­cem­ber, but we fi­nally have the most sat­is­fy­ingly bizarre per­for­mance of 2012. The great di­rec­tor turns up as a sort of crim­i­nal mas­ter­mind with a his­tory that de­fies any easy sum­mary.

Hud­dled in a gloomy cor­ner, his face a mass of creased ex­is­ten­tial de­spair, Mr Her­zog be­gins: “I spent my first win­ter as a pris­oner in siberia wear­ing a dead man’s coat.” Later, when some­body threat­ens him with jail, he snorts: “Amer­i­can prison? A re­tire­ment home!”

Some­body should bot­tle Her­zog’s per­for­mance, boil it down to its essence and smear it lightly across any film that pre­tends to be a com­edy. It’s that funny. Then again, as has been the case with Werner for the past 50 years, we have no real idea if he means us to laugh. Re­mem­ber Klaus Kin­ski fling­ing those poor mon­keys about the place in Aguirre, the Wrath of God? It was ei­ther a ri­otous pan­tomime or a som­bre com­ment on the wretched­ness of ev­ery­thing.

All of which is very in­ter­est­ing, but can only de­lay us from talk­ing about the film it­self for so long. It should be sur­pris­ing to note that – de­spite sell­ing many mil­lions of thrillers – Lee Child has had to wait un­til now to see one of his books made into a movie. It’s ac­tu­ally not so weird. No stu­dio will spend much money on a mys­tery movie th­ese days. Over the past few decades, all big-bud­get thrillers have be­come ac­tion movies.

Christo­pher McQuar­rie, mind­ful of th­ese facts, has made a most un­usual beast of Child’s 2005 novel One Shot. That book fol­lowed a hugely tall, im­pres­sively wide, scar­ily in­tel­li­gent tramp as he pon­dered his way to the so­lu­tion of an ap­par­ently random shoot­ing spree. Jack Reacher features the con­sid­er­ably more com­pact Cruise in a film that – though gifted its fair share of quasi-cere­bral mo­ments – works hard at shoe-horn­ing a shoot-out or a car chase into ev­ery empty cor­ner.

Bits of it are prop­erly ter­ri­ble. Poor Rosamund Pike plays a lawyer who, though plucky and bright, is doomed to fin­ish the film strapped, Pene­lope Pit­stop-style, to a chair while (Hayelp! Hayelp!) the hero fights his way to her res­cue.

Bits of it are pass­ably en­ter­tain­ing. McQuar­rie, still best known for writ­ing The Usual Sus­pects, engi­neers a gra­tu­itous car chase that just about makes ki­netic and dra­matic sense.

And bits of it are so hi­lar­i­ous you will find your­self ram­ming whole fists in the mouth to stop your­self swal­low­ing your own tongue. Is this really the de­sired ef­fect? Is it the best bad film of the dy­ing year? Ei­ther way, you couldn’t call Jack Reacher bor­ing.

You wanna piece of me: Tom Cruise IS Jack Reacher

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