Dir. Christopher McQuarrie, 130 mins, rated 12A

Cast: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog

Considering the fuss that greeted the casting of Daniel Craig – a blond – as James Bond, it was evitable that fans of the ridiculously readable (and incredibly successful) Jack Reacher novels might take issue with the casting of Tom Cruise as the books’ man-mountain protagonist. But in contrast to Bond, a figure characterized more by his catchphrases and the brands he surrounds himself with than by any particular physical attributes, the character of Reacher is largely defined by his stature. His bodily stats – six-foot-five height, 50-inch chest – are repeated so frequently throughout the series that they have become almost like a mantra. In fact, Jack Reacher is a man so ridiculously large and tough that in the third book he survives being shot point blank in the chest because his pec muscles absorb the bullet.

But as Brit author Lee Child so neatly pointed out, another actor might deliver 100% of the height but only 90% of Reacher. “With Tom, you’ll get 100% of Reacher with 90% of the height.” While Child might not share his literary creation’s aptitude for mathematics (or else relies upon some judicious rounding up), it’s certainly true that Cruise is one actor who can be relied upon to deliver a larger-than-life performance, and in Jack Reacher, he doesn’t disappoint.

Called in by defence lawyer Helen Rodin (Pike) in the aftermath of a shocking spree shooting, military cop-turned-drifter Jack Reacher (Cruise) is initially uninterested. He’s convinced that the prosecution have an open-and-shut case, because he knows something they don’t, namely that the accused – ex-Army sniper James Barr (Joseph Sikora) – has form when it comes to this sort of thing. Tempted by the promise of unrestricted access to the evidence, Reacher agrees to become Rodin’s investigator, if only to bury Barr. But a visit to the crime scene reveals a number of inconsistencies, and as Reacher and Rodin dig deeper into the crime and its victims, they begin to wonder if the random shooting was quite as random as it first appeared.

The opening scene, depicting the sniper picking his targets, is done in a chillingly effective point-of-view shot straight down the gunman’s telescopic sight – an arresting start to the story that ensures the audience is helplessly complicit in the horrific actions that follow. In fact, the scene is so effective that, even without an excess of gore, it goes way beyond what you might expect from the film’s child-friendly 12A.

The story unfolds, moving through a series of obstacles as effortlessly as the movie’s implacable hero. The fight scenes, though bloodless, are thrilling, and because the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, you don’t stop to consider the unlikelihood of this slightly reduced Reacher being able to take on (and beat) five guys at once. It’s Cruise doing what he does best, whether it’s delivering whipsmart dialogue or a serious beatdown, or displaying genius-level deductions (it makes a nice change to see an investigator actually doing some investigating). The obligatory car chase (with Cruise doing all his own driving) isn’t overplayed, and in an unconventional but ultimately effective piece of casting, German director Werner Herzog excels as the film’s Keyser Soze-like master villain, known only as The Zec.

Adapted from Child’s 2005 novel One Shot, the ninth in the Reacher series, Jack Reacher is the second film from writer-director Christopher McQuarrie. McQuarrie is perhaps best known as the writer of Bryan Singer’s neo-noir classic The Usual Suspects, and similar to that earlier film, Jack Reacher makes for a refreshingly old school thriller in an era where action movies often rely on huge CGI setpieces to patch over the flimsiest of plots. Oh, and look out for a nice cameo by the author playing a property desk cop (at six-foot five, Child is the same height as his creation, so perhaps unsurprisingly it’s a sitting-down appearance).

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