In the chilling opening of Jack Reacher, a man drives to a parking deck overlooking the Allegheny River in downtown Pittsburgh, loads a sniper rifle with handmade bullets, and shoots dead five people walking on the riverbank. Drawing from the pages of Lee Child's "One Shot," the ninth book in the Jack Reacher series, Director Christopher McQuarrie crafts a sly crime thriller with intensity and suspense atypical in recent genre films. Tom Cruise plays former U.S. Army Military Police Corps officer Jack Reacher, a man known to readers as an imperfect, unhinged hero. The suspect in the shootings instructs investigators to "Get Jack Reacher," who arrives with his own concerns about the man in custody. Cruise is excellent here, supplementing his leading-man swagger with icy retorts and lethal fighting skills, and McQuarrie, who also wrote the screenplay, blends action, criminal procedure and human drama into a successful live-action pulp thriller.
The film wastes little time out of the gate, and the five targeted through the sniper's scope are dead within five minutes. The cops arrest James Barr (Joseph Sikora), a solider with a violent past known to Reacher, but the film pulls no punches about Barr being the only guilty party. Barr's defense attorney, Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), hires Reacher as her investigator despite her District Attorney father's (Richard Jenkins) warning that the case will torpedo her career. Reacher initially is skeptical; he knows Barr is capable of murder and lacks a conscience. Helen urges him to dig deeper, and Reacher agrees to help after forcing Helen to meet with the families of several victims. Child's novel translates well to the screen, and Jack Reacher sprints through a dense crime wave while the audience puts together the puzzle alongside Reacher.
The film necessarily simplifies Child's narrative, but remains a compelling crime thriller with shadowy villains and several lower-level pawns that factor into the conspiracy. Jack Reacher is a smart, often brutal film unconcerned with its paperback-book trappings. The characters aren't exactly multi-dimensional, but the film's conservative development works to its benefit, allowing it to move like one of Child's page-turners. Only the protracted, multi-chapter conclusion feels like it could use some trimming. McQuarrie, best known for writing The Usual Suspects, the Cruise-led Valkyrie and the upcoming The Wolverine, peppers the film with surprising bit players. Filmmaker Werner Herzog shows up in a crazy role, and Robert Duvall tests Reacher when he comes looking for answers at an out-of-the-way gun range.
Jack Reacher should quell PG-13 naysayers, as the film is surprisingly brutal. The fight scenes, some with A Good Day to Die Hard's Jai Courtney, are realistic but not especially memorable. McQuarrie reveals his aces in the film's crucial moments of suspense, like the film's opener, where the camera sickeningly pans the crowd for victims. A mid-film car chase sees Cruise commandeer a Chevrolet Chevelle SS, and is solid '60s, Steven McQueen excitement. Cruise snaps limbs and knocks adversaries out cold as no-nonsense Reacher, and I enjoyed the scene where Cruise absolutely shuts down a would-be bar suitor. Paramount undersold Jack Reacher by minimizing the connection to Child's novels, but the author's twisty crime writing is the film's best asset.
Paramount continues to hit home runs with their new-release Blu-rays, and Jack Reacher looks phenomenal in high definition. Shot on 35 mm stock, the 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image retains a light layer of grain and never strays into traps of digital manipulation. Detail is exceptional throughout; close-ups reveal minute facial features and the grooves on ammunition and gun barrels. Wide shots stretch for miles without compression artifacts, and the sunny Pittsburgh skyline is crystal clear. Sharpness is excellent, and Jack Reacher exhibits the kind of clarity and high-definition "pop" home theater owners can use to convert their feet-dragging friends to HD converts. I really can't think of any more adjectives to describe how beautifully clear and detailed this image looks. Skin tones and color saturation are both spot-on, and black levels are impressive. Only when McQuarrie intends do black levels flash purple due to nearby lighting, and the inky shadows never overwhelm the details lingering within. I did not notice a single instance of aliasing or shimmer, and can find nothing to fault the transfer for Jack Reacher.
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is also exceptional, and provides home theater owners an aggressive, totally immersive mix with wonderful range and clarity. This is the kind of mix where a whisper is as clear as a ringing gunshot, and the elements are perfectly separated while remaining totally cohesive. Dialogue is razor sharp, and hiss and feedback are never an issue. Directional dialogue surrounds the viewer, and set pieces like a busy police station provide ample opportunity for surround-speaker chatter. Ambient effects like crowd noise and weather play throughout the sound field, and the film's action effects are often downright startling. The dread inducing pop of sniper fire whizzes from the rear to the front speakers, where the LFE rumbles in protest. Car crashes and fights rattle the floor, and the mix perfectly balances effects, bass response and score. French, Spanish and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks are also available, as are English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Paramount releases Jack Reacher in "combo pack" format. The two-disc set includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy of the film and codes to redeem iTunes-compatible and UltraViolet digital copies. The discs are packed in a Blu-ray eco-case, which is wrapped in a slipcover that replicates the slightly cheesy cover artwork. Paramount also includes a $10 Ticketmaster sports ticket coupon and a code to access the first chapter of Child's upcoming novel. The disc includes a number of nice extras:
Director Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise adapt author Lee Child's "One Shot" into the first chapter of a Jack Reacher film series that hopefully will continue to push the gritty, paperback pulp thrills of Child's novels. Cruise plays the title character, a former soldier and current drifter, who joins a defense attorney investigating a chilling multiple homicide. Jack Reacher works well as a briskly paced crime thriller, and Cruise adds pleasing edge to his leading man charisma. Paramount's Blu-ray is technically excellent and includes some nice bonus content. Highly Recommended.