Tom Cruise returns to the big screen with a vengeance as Lee Child’s formidable vigilante and ex-military policeman, Jack Reacher, in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.
Cruise once again brings his considerable energy and commitment to the character and honours the action beats that he laid down in the first film. But what really differentiates his performance from other tough guy characters in Never Go Back is his relationship to the film’s female characters.
Reacher can take out the bad guys with ease, but as a drifter he has never had a significant romantic relationship with any particular women. But this all changes when he meets Cobie Smulder’s Major Susan Turner, and an attraction begins to form between the two of them. Cruise plays it as if he may have met his soul mate in a woman who is just as charismatic, tenacious and tough as he is. While I always expect to see Cruise’s Reacher clobber the bad guys, seeing him emotionally vulnerable and opening himself up to another human being, particularly a woman, is a refreshing action for such a tough guy character.
This ‘vulnerable hero’ concept also extends itself to Reacher’s relationship to young street urchin Samantha (Danika Yarosh), who may or may not be his daughter. This realisation that he may be a father is a gut-wrenching punch for Reacher, especially given his need to always do the right thing. Here you get a sense that for the first time in his life maybe Reacher has failed. Then there’s the fact that he’s dealing with a temperamental and rebellious teenager who isn’t interested in following any of his rules, which leads to plenty of drama. Newcomer Yarosh really puts Cruise to the test on screen, but there are also plenty of heartfelt moments between the two of them that will make audience members swoon.
Standing next to Tom Cruise is a big ask for any actress, but Cobie Smulders does an extraordinary job and has completely transformed herself into Jack Reacher’s equal. The current commanding officer of Reacher’s old unit, Smulders’ Turner doesn’t pull any punches, and sticks it to the bad guys when she is pushed to the limit. Turner is not another throwaway female character either, her importance to the success of the film is vital, and Smulders crafts a compelling portrait of an American fighting woman that is empowering to watch.
While 2012’s Jack Reacher was a very standard procedural story with Reacher as the hunter, this time Cruise and director Ed Zwick flip the film on its head and move in the opposite direction. Never Go Back is a straight up road movie, with the action moving from the edge of the southern states to Washington, DC, before finally landing in New Orleans. This constantly moving setting really captures the spirit of Lee Child’s books and the restless nature of Reacher. The speed also helps build tension as Reacher and Turner battle a sadistic assassin known only as The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger), who will stop at nothing to kill them.
Reacher fans who are itching for a fight are also in luck, as Cruise and Smulders have to contend with a batch of mercenary bad guys who aren’t interested in playing fair. The punches come brutally, and Cruise hits hard. He also goes through a fair few firearms in the process as well, and causes plenty of carnage on a New Orleans pier with an H&K 15. The final confrontation between Reacher and The Hunter is a particularly nasty affair, with Cruise pulling out some deadly Krav Maga moves to match his sadistic opponent.
Credit must also be given to the film’s cinematographer Oliver Wood (The Bourne Identity), who uniquely captures Reacher’s thoughts and investigative processes. His filmmaking draws on plenty of steady cam shots in the film’s tight fight scenes, as well as POV footage to display how Reacher looks at a crime scene. Wood and Zwick also use plenty of odd angles and tight shots to create a sense of danger and unfamiliarity to the characters, and the situations that they find themselves in.
If you’re expecting nothing more than a mindless action film with Jack Reacher: Never Go Back then I’m afraid this is not the film for you. But if you want a story that truly stretches the resources and emotions of its lead character, along with applying plenty of thrills, then you have come to the right place.
Image source: Paramount Pictures