At The Movies: Jack Reacher & The Life Of Pi

Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher

Directed by:

Christopher McQuarrie

Starring: Tom Cruise,

Rosamund Pike

& Joseph Sikora

Cert: 15A

Well, Christmas might be over but they’ll be making sandwiches from this turkey for a while yet. Yes, some variation of that gag was going to turn up somewhere, so we may as well bite that bullet here. And now that we’re rolling, and talking about bullets.....

On a grand sunny day in Pittsburgh, a sniper fires on a crowd and kills five people with six shots. Former Army sniper James Barr (Sikora) has been arrested for the deed and hauled in for interrogation – where he simply scribbles a note: “Get Jack Reacher”.

Reacher is the hotshot investigator hero of the Lee Child novels, the genius lone wolf who lives off the grid, stands six-five in his socks, weighs 250 pounds, and sports a fetching head of dirty blond hair. Naturally, he is played here by Tom Cruise.

Reacher, being a clever chap and all, doesn’t like the look of the case. For one thing, he knows right well that an Army sniper wouldn’t miss a shot unless he had plenty good reason. When unsavoury characters start turning up and making life a hassle for him, good old Jack knows he was right in the first place. To make that feeling even nicer, he gets himself a drooling new admirer.

Helen Rodin (Pike) is the sniper’s defence lawyer, a fine looking lady whose daddy (Richard Jenkins) is the big cheese district attorney doing his best to make sure the shooter gets a nice long stay behind bars.

Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie won a screenplay Oscar back in the day for The Usual Suspects, so he’s a chap who clearly knows how to tell a yarn. But you wouldn’t know that, watching Jack Reacher, a self-indulgent mess that doesn’t seem to know what it’s supposed to be about, and thinks it’s a lot smarter than it is.

Reacher himself could have been a fine character here if he went about his business with his tongue in his cheek, but Tom Cruise is saddled with playing him straight, snapping off some of the crappiest dialogue he’ll ever see, as if it’s the height of cool and clever.

Rosamund Pike doesn’t fare any better, and Robert Duvall is wasted as a grumpy git who’s handy with a rifle and knows how to cover the hero in a shootout. The strangest yet most welcome role – welcome, since it is an entertaining distraction – is that of the one-eyed villain who’s minus a couple of fingers, which apparently made a nice snack during a bout of frostbite. He’s played by the filmmaker Werner Herzog, no stranger to the darker side of the real world, and deserving of better fare than this to show off his front-of-camera talents.

Likewise Mr Cruise, one of Hollywood’s genuine movie stars. He shows here again that he can still do the action man thing with the best of them, but he needs to start hanging out with someone who can tell a cracking story. Christopher McQuarrie seems to have lost the knack.

Life of Pi

Directed by: Ang Lee

Starring: Suraj Sharma,

Infan Khan & Rafe Spall

Cert: PG

I haven’t read Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, the supposedly unfilmable bestseller, so I can’t comment on director Ang Lee’s faithfulness or otherwise to the book. As a film, it’s a visual masterpiece but a tad short on all round entertainment.

Piscine (Sharma) is a young Indian boy, whose name is the French for “swimming pool”.

It’s one of those terrible things parents do to their innocent children, landing the poor boy with the nickname “pee”.

To put things right, he adopts the name Pi, because, well, he is a fellow with no limitations.

Pi’s family owns a zoo, but the zoo goes broke and his father loads the clan and several of the animals aboard a ship for Canada.

On the way, a storm blows up, the ship gets a battering, and Pi winds up adrift on the sea – sharing a small boat with a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena, and a large Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. This tiger is not the kind of animal who appears in Hollywood cartoons, laughing it up and dancing, perhaps acquiring himself a giraffe for a girlfriend.

No, Richard is the kind of tiger who will happily eat a child when he’s hungry, just as nature intended.

The struggle for survival on the seas makes for a decent adventure tale, but it’s one that’s broken up and slowed down in the telling, and so there’s stretches where it all gets just a bit tedious.

Visually though, it’s a remarkable achievement, and the exceptionally talented Mr Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tigger, Hidden Dragon) may just have made the best 3D movie to date.

Whether the kids will stick with it to the end is another matter.