Comfortable and Furious

Jack Reacher: Action Review

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Jack Reacher? OK, so we know it’s about some guy. Some guy named Jack Reacher.

Yeah. I was only vaguely aware of it. But I was watching Identity Thief on a plane to Europe and thought, Jesus Christ, if we go down, I will die watching Identity Thief.  So I looked for another movie on the inflight menu and tried this one.

Anyway, the story is that a bunch of people are killed by a sniper. A guy who was a sniper in the military, where he murdered a bunch of people in the Middle East and got away with it, is framed for these murders.

What’s the big deal? I thought the whole point of joining the military is to murder people and get away with it.

That’s what Jack Reacher says! He’s a pretty subversive fellow. But he talks about how this guy, the suspect, never got his chance to murder legally. So he snapped and shot a bunch of American mercenaries.

And who the fuck is Jack Reacher?

He is the ace military investigator who had the murder case back in the Middle East. He had to drop it, because it turned out the military contractors the guy killed had been on a rape spree that had to be swept under the rug. The sniper, who is innocent in the case of these recent shootings, asks for Reacher to investigate the case. He knows Reacher will get to the bottom of things.

At first, Reacher is sure the suspect is guilty, but he finds some inconsistencies and begins to uncover a big conspiracy involving still more mercenaries and some sort of sleazy shell corporation. Then he partners up with the attractive woman who is the sniper’s lawyer and they go about solving the mystery, as the conspirators act from within the shadows to thwart them.

And what was so great about this film?

Did I say “great?” Who said great? I liked it quite a lot though. I saw the first half on my flight to Europe and, not expecting all that much, didn’t time it well. I landed halfway through the movie. So while I was looking at castles and shit, I was often anticipating watching the rest of Jack Reacher on the way home.

It’s the best 80’s Action film I’ve seen in awhile, and also an effective thriller. I don’t know, maybe doing both of those things in one film is pretty great. It wasn’t much at the box office. Sadly, this seems to be the fate of most 80’s Action torchbearers.

What About Taken? That did really well.

Yeah. I don’t get it. Taken was good, but I liked this better. Maybe it was the poor title that hurt the box office. Jack Reacher sounds kind of like a gay porno and gives you no idea of what the movie is about. At least it wasn’t Peter Reacher.

What was the most 80’s Action thing about Jack Reacher, apart from the title sounding like a gay porno?

The character of the hero. The model he presents for a morally perfect man, and the way he is the fulfillment of what we wish ourselves to be.

What do you mean?

Well, one thing is that he has trained his whole life for just this state of affairs. If he was ever going to stumble upon a conspiracy involving highly trained mercenary types who were invulnerable to the law, he was totally prepared. Really, he’s prepared for anything. Infinite boy scout.

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The Boy Scouts let gays in now too!

Shut up. You know, most 80’s Action guys are like that at the beginning of the story. Some use the power of the training montage to get there quickly. But we witness them at the moment of payoff for unimaginable amounts of work and dedication that dwarf anything we’ve ever undertaken.

So, I don’t want to work out at all. But, if I could waive a magic wand and inflict upon all of my past selves: brutal workouts, combat training, legal study, tactical training and whatever else Jack Reacher did to become so awesome, of course, I would do it. Fuck those past selves!

And here I would stand, a killing machine with a sharp and efficient mind, ready to conquer any challenge. Knowing I could best anybody. Knowing it. Because I knew all the moves. Every new situation for them would be something I had run through a thousand times. My knowledge and abilities would encompass theirs.

That’s the wish fulfillment this type of hero offers us. To skip all of the hard work, the tedium, the opportunity costs. While he was doing memory exercises and push ups at the same time, we were watching football and masturbating at the same time. Now we join him in enjoying the fruits of his labor.

Is that really moral superiority? Those actions sound kind of crazy.

Well, ethical superiority in at least some sense. Living the best life. I guess. Getting the maximum out of yourself and creating the capacity in yourself to do great deeds.

But then, of course, he brings all of this power to the cause of justice. They guy who is framed early in the film, who asks for Reacher, says something like, “he doesn’t care about the law. He just cares about what’s right.” Indeed he does. The tyrants who dominate the weak meet the strongest man of all and he turns the tables on them. Before him, they are the weak. He forces them to experience the what they have put their victims through, carrying out a perfect retributive justice.

That sounds pretty generic.

You could say that. I prefer to say we are dealing with a classical form. We are exploring why the classical form works so well. From there, it’s a matter of execution.



Shut up. But. yes. A big thing, which Taken and many others get wrong sometimes, is the moment of justice. Herzog’s main henchman, the one who kills the innocent girl, gets the Seagaling he deserves. No explosion he never sees coming. No bullet to the head.

So what, Reacher has him beaten and then throws his gun aside to settle it with fists?

Yes. Because he knows he will win. He knows his foe completely and has dealt with his like many times before. Even though the guy is some mercenary hot shot, Reacher has learned all of what he has learned and how to defeat it and probably a couple steps beyond that. So, just as the mercenary effortlessly anticipated the actions and reactions of panicked civilians as he murdered them, Reacher encompasses the mercenary and beats him to death, throwing in an arm and wrist snap that makes him shriek in agony and fear, knowing his life is at an end.

Why is that knowledge so critical? If you’re dead, you’re dead.

I’m not advocating anything, but if you sneak up on someone and turn their lights out without them ever knowing, I’m not really sure how much you have hurt them. Certainly, they have no knowledge that they are being punished and that their power is being taken away completely. At worst, you’ve moved them from a positive state to a neutral state, without that moment of fearful knowledge. You know what FDR said…

“I Am a Jelly Doughnut!”

Shut up. So Reacher is about to turn Herzog into the authorities and Herzog explains why he thinks he will go unpunished. Reacher decides he is right, points a gun at him and lets him know his life is at an end. His turn in power is at an end. That he is now going to be killed as punishment for what he has done. Shoots him in the chest. A lot of movies would have him spin around and plant one between the eyes without Herzog ever seeing it, which would ruin the entire movie.

But Tom Cruise stinks!

No he doesn’t. I liked him in this one. He’s perfect for this role because he is the guy who has it all together. He seems orchestrated. You know, even if you think about the Scientology it sort of fits in with the Cruise’s best roles. I am no expert, but Scientology seems like a vicious pyramid scheme and all that. However, when you go into Scientology, your object is to restructure your mind into a more effective mechanism. I think that’s the gist of it. Cruise is good at characters who achieve that end.

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What else was great about the execution?

I found it to be well written. There are a lot of characters and they all have motivations that more or less makes sense. Certainly, more so than a typical big budget movie. It is predictable enough that the innocent girl will die, but in only a few minutes of screentime you come to like her a bit and feel for her. There is even this subtle thing, which I might be imagining, where Cruise gives her a little pep talk about how she doesn’t need to let men walk all over her. Then when her murderer tries to charm her, she fends off his advances. He overpowers her anyway, but at least she didn’t go out like a sucker.

There’s another scene where the girl lawyer asks a traitor what motivated him to participate in something so horrible. “You act like I had a choice,” he says. That’s it. The whole explanation. You’re left to conclude that they threatened his kids or something. His story could be a whole separate movie, but the essence is conveyed in one sentence and the film moves on.

What about the action and the car chases and stuff?

All adequate to very good. Really, the overall effect of the movie is more one of a thriller than an action flick, though it’s pretty close between the two. So there are some violent scenes that are just dramatically effective and then others that involve the velocity and brutality of the pure action film.

Then there’s also the whole unraveling of the conspiracy and Reacher’s detective work. That takes up most of the time. The action comes in bursts. Jack’s reasoning and his observation have more screen time than his krav maga. But it was all well conveyed. I think you might even be able to get the little lady to watch this one with you and she might like it.

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How was Herzog? Was Herzog cool? Don’t you love Herzog?

Yeah sure. He was fine. I like Kobe Bryant too, but I wouldn’t masturbate myself to death if he was in a movie. You can kind of tell Herzog isn’t an actor, but he has a cool voice. “Did iiyyy have a knife in Sibeeeriiia?”

Would you care to profess anymore love for this fictional Reacher?

Well, the other way he conforms to the 80’s Action template is that he is a self-described “drifter.” They do this whole rundown on how he cannot be found and he cashes his pension checks from the Army, but other than that there is no trace of his existence. And when he shows up, he makes it clear that he can disappear just as easily.

Everyone else takes this as an indication that he is crazy. That he snapped, and that he just couldn’t cut it anymore. But he gives a speech to the girl lawyer as they regard office workers grinding away after dark in their compartments in a building across the street. “Are they free?” he asks. Of course, they are not. No job is as good as no job. Reacher is free, but unfettered might be a better word. Without a boss or obligations or compromises, he can realize his full capacity. He truly doesn’t care about what others think of him or about social expectations. Having lost that influence over him, their only recourse is to dismiss him as crazy.

Jack Reacher or Jack Tripper?

Well, that is not fair. John Ritter is one of the most underrated comic actors ever, even though he had a hit TV show. The answer has to be Jack Tripper. But Jack Reacher is also very good. In fact I’m going to revamp my position. This is a great action movie. Great.



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