Jack Reacher

Tom Cruise

You can join the bitch squad and complain that five-foot-seven Tom Cruise has no business playing Jack Reacher, the six-five, 250-pound bruiser of an ex-military cop who walks tall and carries a big grudge against authority in Lee Child's novels (17 to date).

Or you can let the physical stuff go and admit that Cruise is good in the role, damn good. At 50, Cruise has a physical dexterity that makes you believe he can mix it up with five guys in a fight scene, take his lumps and still win. Cruise also catches the mental dexterity that puts Reacher ahead of his enemies as he drifts around the country finding trouble.

You should know that Lee Child, the pseudonym for British author Jim Grant, never wrote a book called Jack Reacher. The plot comes from One Shot, Child's ninth Reacher novel. Its self-contained story makes it a solid place to start. A sniper fires into a crowd, killing five people with six shots. Why? Don't expect spoilers. I'll say only that Reacher is called in by the number-one suspect, James Barr (Joseph Sikora), a former Army sniper Reacher never liked. What Reacher does know is that a military sniper wouldn't miss a shot unless it was on purpose.

And so the investigation begins. The skilled director Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote The Usual Suspects and adapted Child's book, has an irresistible feel for the criminal underbelly. There are many tasty characters. Perhaps too many. But it's a kick to have German filmmaker Werner Herzog around as a depraved piece of work known as the Zec. Newcomers Jai Courtney and Alexia Fast also make strong impressions on the wrong side of the law. But this is Cruise's show. And he nails it. The patented smile is gone, replaced by a glower that makes Jack Reacher a dark and dazzling ride into a new kind of hell.

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