There's a saying that it's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog - although that wisdom has done nothing to placate Lee Child fans still smarting at the fact that the author's iconic hero Jack Reacher has come to cinemas in the form of Tom Cruise. On the page, Reacher is 6' 5" and built like a brick outhouse that would withstand a nuclear winter. Cruise is 5' 7". But throughout his career - from Born on the Fourth of July to Magnolia to Collateral - the most well-known actor on the planet has taken great joy in taking roles where the public's response has been 'I cannot see him making a go of that' and then convincing them otherwise.
He'll do the same for plenty here.
Based on the book One Shot, Jack Reacher finds the former military police officer-turned-drifter become embroiled in an 'open-and-shut' multiple shooting case. A former US Army sniper has been arrested for killing five people, and for some reason the one person he wants in town is Reacher. And Reacher, it turns out, is heading right in his direction with quite the story to tell. Even by Reacher standards, his latest stop-off looks like being the shortest of stays. But then things start getting complicated...
Movie amnesia can be a wonderful thing: within a few minutes the physical differences between Reacher on page and screen are forgotten and you get wrapped up in the charms of this solid action-thriller.
There are quite a few.
Director McQuarrie won the Oscar for writing The Usual Suspects and also wrote and directed the hugely underrated modern western The Way of the Gun; here he turns in a lean, fast movie that mixes punch-up and procedural with some nice black humour. Cruise attacks the character like he's just been given his first starring role; his co-stars are perfectly cast (Duvall as a former marine threatening to steal the show - again); there's a cool car chase where the leading man did all his own driving and the action is suitably bone-crunching - even for 12A.
McQuarrie's script is both faithful to the book and sees the director come up with ideas of his own. Some characters haven't made it to the screen, but the big letdown here is that one who has isn't on it for long enough. In an example of bizarre-but-inspired casting, German director Werner Herzog is brilliant and truly chilling as mastermind 'The Zec' - a real McQuarrie villain if ever there was one. But while he's a major character in One Shot, it's little more than a cameo role here, and far more menace could have been milked from him. Had that happened, the ending would've been as strong as the book's.
Hopefully Cruise and McQuarrie will get the chance to get that right in another Reacher movie. They work well together and while there's talk of them doing Mission: Impossible 5 they can put enough distance between that franchise's Ethan Hunt and Reacher to make sure that viewers don't think that Cruise is playing brothers - Child's writing is certainly rich enough to guarantee they can.
Even if this turns out to be a one-off, one thing's for certain: there'll be many a new fan heading in the direction of the books after watching. Lucky them; Jack is the best of company.