Title: Never Go Back
Rating: 3 Stars
Basically, this was a serviceable Tom Cruise action movie. It was a serviceable Jack Reacher adaptation. Since I’m a pretty huge Jack Reacher fan and Tom Cruise certainly knows his way around an action movie, it was going to be pretty hard for me not to like it. So, I did like it, but certainly it was nothing that will carry with me for any length of time.
I’m pretty much going to watch every Jack Reacher film that ever gets put out, regardless of the critical review. I’ve read all of the Jack Reacher stories and shorter stories, several of them more than once.
Since I do a lot of ‘high brow’ reading, the knee jerk reaction is to call this a guilty pleasure, because, after all, it’s a genre book (action) that follow a pretty predictable narrative arc. In all likelihood, there will be very few literature symposiums in the far (or even near) future studying the Lee Child canon. The fact is, I think the books, within the genre, are well written. They are very much paced by action and centered around one character, Jack Reacher.
Jack Reacher, although his edges have been softened over the years, is the prototypical anti-hero. He fills the space that Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name fills in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. A man with few words comes to a town where there are innocent people being terrorized in some manner by an evil influence. Although not his problem, his personal (if obscure) moral code dictates that he must step in and resolve. He does so through remorseless, brutal violence that in of itself is at best amoral. His is the classic ends justifies the means. By the end, the bad guy is dead (no trial by jury ever in his books) and peace is restored. He then continues on his nomadic adventure across America.
Reacher himself, although a man, is part of the superhero universe. Having said that, he has no super powers per se. He was never bitten by a radioactive spider. He is not Batman with some billions at his disposal and a gadget filled belt. All he has is his mind, his muscles, and his training. He is always the smartest guy in the room, at least three steps in front of everyone else. At one point, it’s mentioned that he has literally never lost a fight. All of the times as a MP serves him well as he navigates through the latest evil sinkhole that he must destroy. Now that I think about it, maybe the character of Reacher is even more like Caine from Kung Fu.
His is also a voice against the extreme capitalist consumerism running rampant in America. Infamously, all he carries is a toothbrush (now slightly enlarged to include an ATM card). He goes to a budget store and buys one outfit of cheap clothes. He wears them until they are dirty or torn. He then casts them aside and buys a new set. For someone like me that is barely a consumer, this strong independence from the trappings of our modern society sings to me.
Finally, the books are surprisingly funny, albeit in a dark, violent way. The bad guys always underestimate him. He always ultimately makes fools of them and they are always flabbergasted when this apparent indigent vagrant outsmarts them. Hilariously, one character actually calls him Sherlock Homeless.
Now, the actual movie…
The movie keeps the skeleton of the book plot. He’s been having a long running conversation with his MP CO replacement, who happens to be a woman named Taylor. Finally he decides to go up to Washington DC to visit her. Arriving, he discovers that she’s been arrested for espionage. Convinced that she’s being railroaded and is in danger, he resolves to free her.
Not only that, he discovers that a woman has filed a paternity suit against him. If true, this could put his entire way of life in jeopardy, because if he truly is the parent of this fifteen year old girl, then his code of ethics would dictate that he’d settle down and help raise her.
That is the two threads of the plot, which matches fairly closely to the book. Although it stays true to that course, it differs in fairly substantial ways.
Tom Cruise is a great action movie star. However, it appears that the movies in which he takes a very active part in developing pretty much bank on pure action, all the time. There are just very few moments of quiet time in the movies. This is a loss since, at the end of the day, Reacher’s main advantage is that he out thinks everyone. You don’t see a lot of evidence here. It is much more about who/how Reacher beats up and kills. In my opinion, this reduces much of the Reacher allure.
On the plus side, Cobie Smulders does an excellent job as Taylor. She is strong and commanding. She is not a woman in distress. She fights fearlessly and ruthlessly. She kills a man without even a hint of remorse. This counts as diversity progress in Hollywood.
And yes, Jesus Fucking Christ, Tom Cruise does just an insane amount of running in this movie.
Bottom line is, I liked it. I was predisposed to like it. However, at the end of the day, it took what most people would consider to be kind of a dumb action novel and created an even more dumbed down movie of it.