After years of what seemed like one public-relations disaster after another, Tom Cruise returned to box office glory with 2011’s first-rate "Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol". If "Ghost Protocol" was Cruise’s comeback, then his new movie, "Jack Reacher", is a comeback for director Christopher McQuarrie. At 28, McQuarrie won an Oscar for writing "The Usual Suspects", which is kind of like my generation’s "The Big Sleep", an astonishingly complex, endlessly debatable film noir that has one of the coolest twist endings ever. McQuarrie followed up "The Usual Suspects" with "The Way of the Gun", a remarkable directorial debut starring Benicio Del Toro and Ryan Phillippe as two entirely unredeemable kidnappers. "The Way of the Gun" showed great promise, and so I was surprised that the writer-director was MIA for the next several years. His resurgence came in 2008, when he wrote and produced the terrifically exciting plot-to-kill-Hitler thriller "Valkyrie". On that film, he found an unlikely ally in Cruise. The two have teamed up together again for "Jack Reacher", which, like "The Way of the Gun", shows McQuarrie playing with genre conventions in a crime film that refuses to give us a traditional hero to root for.
One of the most wholly original crime pictures of the 2000s, "The Way of the Gun" begins with a brawl outside a bar where Parker (Phillippe) and Longbaugh (Del Toro) beat up women, and it ends with them getting into a gunfight with senior citizens. Everything that happens in between is just as unexpected and uncompromising, as McQuarrie consistently makes eccentric choices. The scene where Parker and Longbaugh kidnap the very pregnant Robin (Juliette Lewis) is followed by a shoot-out where we never see the gunplay, only the resulting corpses. As a first-time director, McQuarrie set up a huge challenge for himself: to make Parker and Longbaugh likable without softening the edges of these hardened criminals. He succeeded beyond any reasonable expectation. We root for them despite the fact that their shared past consists of robbing, maiming and murdering people.
Adapted from the Lee Child novel "One Shot", "Jack Reacher" opens with a sniper picking off innocent people seemingly at random, a scene that's probably even more disturbing in the wake of the school shootings in New Town, CT. It's unfortunate that, in the media blitz that followed the shootings, the film became associated with Hollywood's obsession with guns. (Its premiere was cancelled out of respect for the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre). It's hard to think of a recent movie that went to such extraordinary lengths not to glorify gun violence, most notably in a very moving sequence that gives names, faces and personal stories to the people gunned down by the sniper. The private detective hired to discover the sniper's true identity is, like Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) in "The Usual Suspects" and Parker and Longbaugh in "The Way of the Gun", another of McQuarrie's unlikely heroes. When the bad guys think they've got Jack Reacher cornered and are threatening to kill an innocent woman, Jack barks back, "You think I'm a hero? I am not a hero." But, of course, Jack is a hero; he's just not the type we're used to seeing in a major Hollywood movie. We're not used to seeing this type of villain either; in an oddball casting choice, he's played by German film legend Werner Herzog. McQuarrie puts his idiosyncratic stamp on the material right up the movie's expertly staged, rainswept finale.
The Oscar-winning writer's screenplays for "Jack the Giant Slayer" and "The Wolverine" are being produced and the films will be released later this year. He and Cruise are reportedly in talks to team up again for "Mission: Impossible 5". It's official: Christopher McQuarrie is back!