Sunday, January 5, 2014

Book and movie review: Jack Reacher

As you no doubt know if you regularly read this blog, I began reading Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels after it was announced that they would be adapting one of the books into a movie. I wanted to read them in order and vowed not to see the movie until I had gotten through the book the the film was based on (which was the 9th in the series). It was a bit of fortuitous luck then that I recently bought myself an iPad and have been reading the books at a faster pace on there. At the same time, the film just happened to come onto Netflix instant viewing this past week. Now that I have read the book and seen the movie, here are my quick reviews for both.

Book: At times I've struggled with the Reacher series. I've found some of the stories to either have obvious twists or go too far with Reacher's approach at serving his brand of justice. However, this 9th book that the film was based on, titled One Shot, was one of the best in the series to this point. The best aspects of Reacher's character (his intellect, his steely resolve, his nobility) are emphasized and some of his weaker or more cliched qualities are only hinted at. The story itself moves very well with few slow points. It helps that this time there are plenty of compelling characters, both good and bad. I also enjoyed the fact that its location was a small town in Indiana. I've never enjoyed when one of the books takes place in a larger city where Reacher is constantly butting heads with big time bureaucrats. While there is plenty of action and violence, it's not drawn out in the same way that it has been in some of the other novels. This one is much more of a detective story and for that reason, One Shot is a solid page-turner. Grade: B+

Movie: Many people griped before the film was even released when it was announced that Tom Cruise would play the titular character. Given that the character is described as 6'5", muscular, with blond hair and blue eyes, the last person you would picture in that role is Cruise. I was willing to put that physical disparity aside for the sake of enjoying the movie. However, I ended up still believing Cruise was miscast because of the way he portrayed the character. Reacher is a loner by choice, but Cruise still uses his movie star charm that draws people in not tell them to stay away. Reacher also has a grouchy disposition most of the time, but Cruise still cracks wise and never treats this with the seriousness that he should. The movie also falters like most book adaptations do by taking shortcuts when it comes to delivering the complicated, intricate plot within a two hour timeframe. Three major female characters from the book have been completely removed from the film, leaving the burden on Rosamund Pike, who plays a lawyer who helps Reacher. While Pike can be good, she offers nothing of interest here. The film does a nice job of bringing in some A-list talent for the supporting roles including Robert Duvall, Richard Jenkins, and Werner Herzog as a deranged Russian villain (is there any other role for him?), but they do not do enough with their respective characters (at least in contrast to the way they are developed in the book) to justify their presence here. Despite some adaptation problems and Cruise being miscast, the film is not a total loser. The core story remains intact for the most part and is still interesting on the screen (it's understandable why they chose this one for the adaptation). Director Christopher McQuarrie also does some nice directing, particularly in the opening sniper scene and with an extended car chase sequence. While no doubt a disappointment for fans of Lee Child's books, the film offers some pulpy intrigue for those looking for some escapist fare in a movie. Given that a sequel has already been announced, I'll be interested in both reading the books that lead up to the next adaptation and to see if they address some of the problems that plagued this film. If you're a Netflix subscriber, this is probably worth a watch, especially if you're trapped inside by the weather over the next few days. Grade: B-

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