by Lucy Leitner
The latest entry in Pittsburgh’s Hollywood invasion, Jack Reacher is an unfairly maligned action-crime flick that makes full use the location scenery.
With only a 61% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film that centers on a spree shooting has fallen victim to terrible timing and lingering annoyance with its 5’7″ star Tom Cruise. Many reviews for this movie make it seem that height is the single most important requirement for casting. The Jack Reacher of Lee Child’s novels is an intimidating 6’5″, which is apparently more of a stretch than Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan.
But that’s the movies. Sylvester Stallone has been doing it for years. Certain camera angles and effects can make Prince look like he’s more suitable to play in the NBA than even Charlie Murphy claims he is. And it’s not like director Christopher McQuarrie indiscriminately cast some short guy to play the ex-Army tough guy Reacher. He didn’t cast Danny DeVito. He cast Tom Cruise, a veteran action star and three-time Academy Award nominee. No matter how much the “editors” who run US Weekly enjoy putting him on the cover, he has still been competently handling big-time roles for the past three decades.
It’s actually more difficult to remember the couch jumping and the aliens while watching Tom Cruise than it is to get lost in the character. He’s reached that point in his career where he can be a franchise as well as sing Def Leppard and dance to Flo Rida. We should all be so lucky.
Cruise seems to be having fun playing Jack Reacher, an ex-military cop turned drifter who comes to Pittsburgh to investigate a spree shooting by a trained sniper. He teams up with the suspect’s busty defense attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike) when elements of the crime seem to be a little less clear cut than the Law & Order episode it could have been. What differentiates the film from standard police procedural is the charm of the morally ambiguous Reacher and the sinister nature of a villain played by Werner Herzog who chewed off his own fingers while a prisoner in Siberia.
Jack Reacher is clearly meant as the first installment. It is a singular movie that leaves a high body count and little revelations about who Reacher is other than what we can see. It is reminiscent of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movies — a franchise that began with a brutal one-off crime in which the eponymous character becomes involved. I suspect that, like the chronicles of Lisbeth Selander, the next movies in the Jack Reacher saga will delve deeper into the character himself. Future crimes will likely have to do with his past. And, for that reason, will likely not be set in Pittsburgh. And with the havoc he creates in the Steel City, he’s between Kordell Stewart and Jaromir Jagr on the likely-to-be-invited-back scale.
Jack Reacher does not incorporate Pittsburgh into its core, but merely uses it as a backdrop for the opening credits and car chases. The Pittsburgh in the movie is not glorified—only the most superficial aspects are used. It does not have a Pittsburgh feel, which is a good thing for a movie dealing with spree killers, shadowy corporations, sketchy law enforcement, and meth rings. It is also not as epic as other recent Pittsburgh flicks. It doesn’t begin Act II with home plate at PNC Park exploding and sucking Rod Barajas into depths lower than his batting average. Instead, it features bar fights with photogenic meth dealers spilling onto Smallman Street and wrong-way driving through the Armstrong Tunnels, along with Pittsburgh staples like outdated parking meters, omnipresent road closures, and vans stopped in the middle of the Fort Pitt Bridge.
Jack Reacher is not James Bond. The role will not be passed down from generation to generation. It’s an entertaining, enigmatic character with that elusive esprit d’escalier that should be good for two or three more flicks.