“JACK REACHER” (2012) Review

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“JACK REACHER” (2012) Review

British author Lee Childs (aka Jim Grant) wrote a series of novels featuring a former U.S. Army Military police officer turned drifter, who is occassionally hired to investigate difficult cases. One of those turned out to be the 2005 novel, “One Shot”, which was recently adapted as a motion picture that stars Tom Cruise. 

When writer/director Christopher McQuarrie decided to adapt “One Shot” as a movie, one of the first things he did was change the story’s title and location. The story became “JACK REACHER” and the setting was changed from a small Indiana city to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Like the novel, “JACK REACHER” began with the death of five random people by a sniper firing from a parking garage. Police detective Emerson finds evidence pointing a a former Army sharpshooter named James Barr, who was immediately arrested. Instead of confessing to the crime, Barr asked the police and District Attorney Alex Rodin to get drifter and former Army police Jack Reacher to help him. Reacher finally contacted Barr’s attorney, Rodin’s daughter, Helen Rodin. Reacher believed that Barr was guilty, because the latter had originally went on a killing spree during his last tour in Iraq, but got off on a technicality due to his victims being guilty of the gang rape of several Iraqi women. But Reacher’s investigation of the crime scene, along with an encounter with local thugs hired to scare him off, made him realized that Barr had been framed and that the killing spree was merely a cover up for a specific victim.

In the end, “JACK REACHER” proved to be a first-rate action thriller that I enjoyed very much. I would never consider the movie to be one of the best starring Tom Cruise. The basic narrative for “JACK REACHER” did not strike me as particularly original. I have come across similar action or mystery tales in which a series of killings hid one particular murder. But I must admit this particular story presented it in a particularly original way – especially with such a non-conformist like Reacher serving as investigator. There were other aspects of the movie that impressed me. One, I found the opening sequence featuring the sniper’s killing of the five people not only gruesome, but also nail biting. The tension in this particular sequence seemed ten-fold, when it looked as if one of the sniper’s victims might end up being a young child. Once Reacher realized that either Detective Emerson or District Attorney Rodin may be working for the man behind the shootings, the reek of law enforcement reeked throughout the film’s second half, increasing the movie’s tension ten fold. The movie also benefited from a first-rate, three-way car chase through the streets of Pittsburgh; with the police chasing Reacher for the murder of a young woman, and Reacher chasing two of the bad guys. The chase sequence also emphasized Caleb Deschanel’s colorful photography of Pittsburgh, a city that has struck me as quite charming during the past two decades.

There were a few aspects of “JACK REACHER” that troubled me. I wish that McQuarrie’s script had allowed Cruise’s Jack Reacher and Rosamund Pike’s Helen Rodin to consummate the sexual tension between them . . . at least once. I did not require the movie to end with them as a newly established couple. But I figured that one night between the sheets would not have hurt. Honestly! I found myself inwardly screaming “Get a room!” every time it looked as if they were about to lock lips. But the bigger problem for me turned out to be the main villain – a former Soviet prisoner-turned-Russian mobster known as the Zec. Do not get me wrong. I believe that director-actor Werner Herzog gave an exceptionally chilly performance as the mobster. But . . . I could not help but wonder if author Lee Childs and later, MacQuarrie tried too hard to portray him as some kind of cold monster, willing to do anything to survive . . . even chew off his fingers while in prison, in order to prevent himself from succumbing to gangrene. The Zec even forces one minion to either chew off a finger or face death for the latter’s mishandling of Reacher. I would have been impressed if it were not for the fact that the willingness to do anything to survive . . . or self-preservation is something of which just about every human being is capable. It is simply human nature. And in the end, I was not that impressed by the Zec. Also, I could have sworn that the Zec and his men were carrying out a contract on behalf of someone else. I certainly got that impression in his first scene, which I eventually found rather misleading.

However, I was impressed by the film’s cast. I have already commented on Werner Herzog’s portrayal of the mobster called the Zec. Australian actor Jai Courtney gave an equally chilling performance as Charlie, the Zec’s main henchman and the shooter who kill those five people, in cold blood, in the opening scene. Robert Duvall made an entertaining addition to the cast as a former USMC veteran, who operated a gun shop frequented by the main suspect and the real killer. The year 2012 seemed to be the one for British actor David Oyelowo. He started out the year in “RED TAILS”(okay, not much of a start), but he finished out the year with an appearance in “LINCOLN” and a major role in this film. And I was very impressed by his portrayal of Detective Emerson. One, Oyelowo seemed to have a pretty good grasp of an American accent. And two, I found his portrayal of the police detective to be deliciously complex and murky. I could also say the same for Richard Jenkins, who gave a slightly twisted and sardonic portrayal as District Attorney Rodin. It seemed a pity that his appearances in the film seemed slightly limited.

It occurred to me that I have not seen Rosamund Pike in a major film production in quite a while. I do recall that she had appeared as Sam Worthington’s leading lady in “WRATH OF THE TITANS”. But I would rather forget about that particular film. Thankfully, she was much more memorable as Helen Rodin, the feisty defense attorney who hired Reacher. She possessed a solid American accent and more importantly, I enjoyed the way Pike infused both professionalism and emotion into her character. And her screen chemistry with Tom Cruise reeked with sexuality. Although I would not consider “JACK REACHER” to be among Cruise’s top films, I must admit that I think his role as the eccentric former Army investigator might prove to be one of his better roles. I really enjoyed Cruise’s performance as Reacher. Not only did he maintain the character’s eccentricity, but he also projected a subtle weariness that made me understand the character’s disappointment with society at large. He also infused a good deal of subtle humor that struck me as both entertaining and off-kilter. But more importantly, Cruise did a great job in projecting the character’s unstoppable force, without having to be the same height (6’5″) as the literary Reacher.

Like I said, I would not view “JACK REACHER” as one of the most memorable action movies I have ever seen. But I certainly would not regard it as mediocre. It possessed a solid story, written and directed by Christopher MacQuarrie. The movie also benefited from first-rate performances by a cast led by Tom Cruise in the title character.

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“THE TOURIST” (2010) Review

“THE TOURIST” (2010) Review

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck directed this remake of the 2005 French film, ”ANTHONY ZIMMER” about an American schoolteacher on vacation in Europe, who is mistaken for a British accountant who had embezzled a great deal of funds from a gangster. The movie stars Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie and Paul Bettany. 

Jolie portrayed a British woman named Elise Clifton-Ward, who was being trailed in Paris by a number of men who work for Scotland Yard. At a cafe, she received a letter from Alexander Pearce, a former lover who is wanted by various police forces in Europe and a ruthless gangster. The letter provided explicit directions from Pearce to board a train to Venice, pick out a man who resembles him and make the police believe that this man is him. After Elise burned the letter, she boarded a train for Venice and took a seat besides an American tourist named Frank Tupelo, who became instant attracted to her. And the police, led by a Scotland Yard investigator named John Acheson, instantly began to believe that Frank is the mysterious Alexander Pearce.

One would think that a romantic thriller starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie and set in the romantic cities of Paris and Venice would be a bona fide winner . . . at least with me. And God knows I tried to like this movie. I really did. But in the end, ”THE TOURIST” failed to win my favor. It turned out to be one of the most disappointing movies I have ever seen in the past five years. Mind you, the screenplay adaptation written by director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie and Julian Fellowes was not terrible. The plot seemed a bit implausible, but it ended with a surprisingly well-written twist. And good direction and good acting could have overcome it. Unfortunately, von Donnersmarck’s direction hampered the movie a great deal. I found it rather dull and uninspiring. Especially the action sequences, which featured a very dull chase throughout some of Venice’s canals. And I found the pedantic dialogue – especially that spoken by the two leads, Depp and Jolie – rather hard to bear.

Speaking of the leads, both Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie received Golden Globe nominations for their performance. How on earth did that happen? I am not questioning their talent. Both have given superb performances in past movies. But neither could overcome von Donnersmarck’s tepid direction and the God awful dialogue in the script. And having both actors spend a good amount of time staring into space or at each other, while posing in an iconic manner did not help their performances. Paul Bettany fared a better as the relentless and ruthless Scotland Yard inspector, John Acheson, who is bent upon arresting the real Alexander Pearce or acquiring the money the latter had stolen. He probably gave the most energetic performance in the movie. The movie also featured an intense performance by Steven Berkhoff as Reginald Shaw, the ruthless gangster who also sought out Pearce. His character’s villainy seemed a lot more subtle than his role in the James Bond movie, ”OCTOPUSSY”. Speaking of James Bond, I must admit that former Bond actor Timothy Dalton made an effective head of Scotland Yard. It seemed a pity that his role was not as large as it could have been.

Aside from Bettany, Dalton and Berkhoff’s performances, there were other aspects of “THE TOURIST” I enjoyed. One, I was impressed by the lush costumes designed by Colleen Atwood; and worn by Depp, Berkhoff and Jolie. I never knew that Steven Berkhoff looked so impressive in a turtleneck sweater. And cinematographer John Seale took advantage of the Paris and Venice settings and provided beautiful photography for the movie. Those aspects of “THE TOURIST” are the best things I can say about this film.

I tried very hard to like ”THE TOURIST”. I really did. It had the potential to be an entertaining film. But Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s flaccid direction, Depp and Jolie’s dull performances and the tepid dialogue and action sequences featured in the movie prevented this from happening. And looking back, I now find the movie’s three Golden Globe nominations something of a joke.

“VALKYRIE” (2008) Review

“VALKYRIE” (2008) Review

When I had first learned that ”VALKYRIE”, a movie about the final assassination attempt upon Adolf Hitler, would be released on Christmas Day . . . I was surprised. Honestly. And my response had nothing to do any opinion I have about the film. Let me explain.

One has to understand that ”VALKYRIE” had gone through a great deal of turmoil to get made. Whatever problems the movie’s production had encountered, its biggest obstacle turned out to be the casting of Tom Cruise in the lead role of Lieutenant Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the architect of this last assassination attempt that occurred on July 20, 1944. Many German politicians protested against the idea of a practicing Scientologist like Cruise portraying someone who has become regarded as a hero for his opposition against Hitler. Even members of von Stauffenberg’s family joined in the protest. The filmmakers of ”VALKYRIE” initially had difficulty setting up filming locations in Germany due to the controversy, but they were later given leeway to film in locations pertaining to the film’s story, such as Berlin’s historic Bendlerblock. Also, Cruise’s popularity with the American public had sunk over the past several years. Considering that many of the negative comments about the actor seemed to have stemmed from his Scientology beliefs, it seemed to me that religious bigotry had played a large role in the hard feelings against him.

Early in 2008, MGM/United Artists had released trailers of ”VALKYRIE”. Personally, I found them impressive and was happy to learn that the movie was scheduled for a June 2008 theater release. But due to the poor response to the trailers and MGM/United Artists’s initial marketing campaign, the studio executives moved the movie’s release date from June 2008 to February 2009. I was also surprised to learn that ”VALKYRIE” had another black mark against it – namely director Bryan Singer. He had built a reputation as a first-rate director with movies such as ”THE USUAL SUSPECTS” and the first two films from the ”X-MEN” franchise. Unfortunately, his reputation hit a snag when the release of the over-budgeted ”SUPERMAN RETURNS” failed to impress the critics and make a profit for the studio that released it. I figured that MGM/United Artists was simply going to allow ”VALKYRIE” languish in the theaters during the off season following Christmas, never to be heard of until its DVD release. Thankfully, MGM/United Artists proved me wrong. A few months ago, the studio executives announced that ”VALKYRIE” would be released on Christmas Day for the movies holiday season. When the film was finally released, I rushed out to see it as soon as I possibly could.

As I had earlier stated, ”VALKYRIE” told the story of the July 20, 1944 plot by German army officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Ever since the years before World War II, there had been a growing number of dissidents that viewed Hitler as the wrong man to be Germany’s leader. This opposition – which included German officers like Ludwig Beck, Henning von Tresckow and Claus von Stauffenberg – led to a series of assassination attempts on Hitler, including one plotted by von Tresckow in March 1943. By September 1943, one of the dissidents, General Friedrich Olbricht, recruited Lieutenant-Colonel von Stauffenberg into their ranks. It was his plan – code name”Valkyrie” – that led to the last attempt to kill Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944. Directed by Bryan Singer, the movie stars Tom Cruise as Claus von Stauffenberg. The cast also includes Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp, Kenneth Branagh, Jamie Parker, Eddie Izzard, Christian Berkel, David Schofield, Kevin McNally, Thomas Kretschmann and Tom Wilkinson. Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander wrote the screenplay.

I might as well get around to it and reveal my opinion of ”VALKYRIE”. In a nutshell . . . I loved it. Which surprised me a great deal. I had expected to like ”VALKYRIE”, considering the cast, the director and the subject matter. Or at least find it interesting. I had no idea that I would end up experiencing a gauntlet of emotions while watching it. Mere curiosity was the only emotion I had felt, while the movie introduced the main characters and revealed the incidents that led to von Stauffenberg’s decision to join the conspiracy against Hitler. By the time the movie focused upon the assassination attempt and the coup against the S.S., I felt myself growing tense with anxiety and anticipation. By the time the conspirators’ plot began to unravel, the tension I felt had been replaced by dread. And when von Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators were being captured and executed, I watched the scenes unfold with tears in my eyes. Curious, especially since I knew how the story would end.

The excellent performances by the cast turned out to be one of the reasons why ”VALKYRIE”struck such an emotional chord within me. This is also one of the reasons why I like Bryan Singer as a director. He knows how to utilize his cast – whether each performer has a major role or not. And Singer made the best of what proved to be a first-rate cast. I could go into details about every actor or actress in the cast, but I must admit that a handful managed to catch my attention. One member of the cast turned out to be Thomas Kretschmann, who portrayed Major Otto Ernst Remer, head of a Reserve Army battalion. The actor’s sardonic portrayal of Remer amused me to no end. Tom Wilkinson gave a top-notch performance as General Friedrich Fromm, head of Germany’s Reserve Army in Berlin. Wilkinson did an excellent job of portraying the treacherous general with a slight touch of sympathy. Another actor that caught my attention was Jamie Parker. He portrayed Lieutenant Werner von Haeften, an adjutant to von Stauffenberg who helped the latter carry out the plot. Parker did a great job in portraying von Haeften’s intense loyalty to von Stauffenberg. In fact, he and Cruise managed to create a strong screen chemistry together. Terence Stamp was excellent as the reserved, yet strong-willed Ludwig Beck, a former Army general whose opposition against Hitler began in the late 1930s and served as the conspirators’ figurehead. Bill Nighy portrayed General Friedrich Olbricht, Chief of the Armed Forces Replacement Office (Wehrersatzamt) at the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht and the original architect of the plan, Operation Valkyrie. It was Olbricht who recruited von Stauffenberg into the conspiracy. For the past five to six years, I have always regarded Nighy as some kind of chameleon. And with his performance, he did an excellent job of revealing at both the vacillating and stalwart sides of Olbricht’s nature.

But the true focus of ”VALKYRIE” was Claus von Stauffenberg and it was Tom Cruise’s job to make this man believable to the audience. Some critics have complained that Cruise had failed to capture the essence of von Stauffenberg’s character as an aristocrat. Many of them blamed this on the actor’s American accent. Personally, I find this criticism to be a load of crap. After all, the 1988 version of b>”DANGEROUS LIAISONS”</b> featured American actors portraying French aristocrats . . . with American accents. And I do not recall any complaints about their performances. I especially find the criticisms against Cruise ludicrous, considering that most of the cast featured British actors – using accents from all over the British Isles. What was my view of Cruise’s performance as Claus von Stauffenberg? I thought he was excellent. His portrayal of the German Army officer was that of a hero – and a very stalwart one at that. On the other hand, Cruise also did a first-rate job of capturing von Stauffenberg’s arrogance – a trait that was probably a by-product of his aristocratic background. This trait also managed to get the officer into a great deal of trouble even before his participation in the assassination attempt. But . . . most of the critics were too busy being distracted by Cruise’s American accent, while paying scant attention to the British accents of many of the other actors. Go figure.

Anyone familiar with Claus von Stauffenberg or the July 20, 1944 plot to kill Adolf Hitler would have known the outcome of the movie’s story. I certainly did. But despite my knowledge of the outcome, I found myself being caught up in the suspense of the story, thanks to Bryan Singer’s direction and the screenplay written by Christopher MacQuarrie and Nathan Alexander. I had assumed that most of the story would center on the conspirators’ plotting and set up of the assassination attempt. I had no idea there was more to the story surrounding the incident – namely the coup perpetrated by von Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators against Hitler and the S.S. Nor did I have any idea that knowing how the story would end, I would find myself rooting . . . hoping that the conspirators would succeed in their plans. Or escape Hitler’s wrath. The only hiccup in the movie – at least for me – was the introduction of Major General Erich Fellgiebel (Eddie Izzard) into the story. I found it confusing. Was he already part of the conspiracy when von Stauffenberg first approached? Or what? For me, it was only misstep in an otherwise superb script.

With a first-rate cast led by Tom Cruise, along with Christopher MacQuarrie and Nathan Alexander’s script, Bryan Singer directed an exciting and suspenseful tale that managed to tap into a great deal of emotions for me. From my personal view, I believe that ”VALKYRIE” was one of the better movies of 2008.