Tom Cruise returns to theaters this Christmas in Jack Reacher, a crisp actioner from writer/director Christopher McQuarrie. The film is based on a popular series of books by writer Lee Child. A former army sniper, James Barr (Joseph Sikura), inexplicably kills five people with his rifle and homemade bullets. The case seems open and shut for lawman Emerson (David Oyelowo). This sentiment isn't shared by his anti-death penalty lawyer (Rosamund Pike), especially when Barr is beaten into a coma after he's put in general population. His lone statement to police before being attacked was, "Get Jack Reacher". Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is an ex-military policeman/war hero that lives totally off the grid. He has a history with Barr and quickly deduces that there's something amiss with the case. A vast conspiracy unfolds as Reacher gets closer to the truth, putting himself and those around him in imminent danger.

Jack Reacher is not a retread of the Mission Impossible character Ethan Hunt. There's no gimmick gadgets or insane stunts here. Reacher is very much an investigator, carefully sifting through clues and witnesses. The film unfolds as a mystery with action elements interspersed. Director Christopher McQuarrie adapted the screenplay himself, so his lean writing style is evident. McQuarrie is a highly skilled screenwriter responsible for such classics as The Usual Suspects and The Way of the Gun. He keeps that methodical tone with Jack Reacher, resulting in a fairly interesting story. McQuarrie also keeps Tom Cruise grounded in the character. Reacher isn't superhuman in his ability or laden with any ethical restraint. He's about finding answers and isn't afraid to break a few bones to get them.

There's an issue I have with the ending of Jack Reacher that had me scratching my head. McQuarrie does a good job putting together a succinct mystery. But when all the plot points simmer to a nice boil, he delivers the Hollywood ending that he's tried so hard to avoid. It kind of let me down. I won't reveal spoilers but Reacher does something that's uncharacteristic. The entire scene seems custom made by producers who want more of a macho, man to man denouement. I thought this was out of place, especially when Reacher is supposed to be smarter than that situation. It prevents the film from being really good, but maybe that's a minor quibble when the overall product is entertaining.

Timing in life is everything and the release of Jack Reacher comes a week after the horrific massacre in Newton, Connecticut. Paramount cancelled the premiere and removed all the advertising that showed the sniper scenes in the film. I'm not sure how audiences will react to Jack Reacher. A movie is just that, but the opening is pretty realistic and gritty with people being gunned down by the sniper. I saw the film the day after the Newton tragedy and, honestly, was a bit uneasy. Thankfully the film does not stay too long with the shootings before delving into the plot. It was probably too late to push the opening of Jack Reacher back a few weeks. I realize the studio wants to capitalize on the Christmas box office, but I fear that audiences may not be ready to see this yet.

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