Those of us who have read the books, by Lee Child know what a guilty pleasure this character is. How great would it be to have this semiretired, ex-military police guy running around loose, solving the unsolvable? He’s had enough combat and weapons training that he’s never intimidated by thugs, and doesn’t lose a fight unless they sneak up behind him, which they rarely do, because he’s got a kind of sixth sense. They can’t threaten his family because he doesn’t have any. They can’t threaten his job because he doesn’t have one. He can tell when people are lying to him. He decided a while back to just be a drifter. In fact, he travels so light he almost fulfills Jesus’ instruction to the disciples in Luke 9:3: “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money – not even an extra tunic.”
Well, OK, Reacher occasionally accesses his military retirement through a post office box and a money order. But he really doesn’t carry anything. When he needs new clothes, he just buys them, and discards the old. That way, he never has to carry a suitcase or a backpack. He’s an accomplished investigator because he is a both a great observer and has very accurate intuition about people. Oh, and when it comes to instant justice for the bad guys? No problem, no due process, no regret. Just ride off into the sunset like the Lone Ranger, except Silver might be the train or a bus instead of a horse. But there’s no Tonto. Too much baggage. No girlfriend, either, except maybe temporarily. Here’s a man who’s truly free. Which may indeed be, in the words of the contemporary theologian Kris Kristofferson, another word for nothing left to lose.
To those of us who carry within us this definitive idea of who Jack Reacher ought to be and what he ought to look like, Tom Cruise doesn’t do it for us. Sorry, Tom, but you’re too pretty. And you’re too nice. Even when you play like you’re mean, well, it just comes across as playing. The Jack Reacher in this film isn’t nearly as mysterious as the one in the book, nor as big, nor as menacing. And Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher is also a shameless flirt (in this case with Rosamund Pike), which the Jack Reacher of the book would likely not have gone out of his way to do. He would only go out of his way to right a wrong.
Having said all that, the movie isn’t all bad. In a case involving a sniper shooting innocent civilians, there’s a setup nobody really sees, until Reacher does. Of course the bad guy hiding behind a screen of lackeys and a crooked cop doesn’t stay hidden from our persistent hero. And the gun range owner (Robert Duvall) with something to hide makes for an unlikely ally. But with Reacher, the bad guys better just get ready to be caught. Because they can run, but they can’t hide.
Well, it’s a great fantasy. Lee Child himself couldn’t resist partaking of the cameo (he’s the desk sergeant at the police station). But sometimes heroes are better left to the imagination.
Ronald P. Salfen is the minister at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.