Why Tom Cruise’s Action Star Jack Reacher Is a Hero for Trump’s America

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By Will Johnson | 3:58 pm, October 19, 2016
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Isn’t it time to cut Tom Cruise some slack?

Critics are piling into his latest film, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, dismissing it as a cut-price action-thriller from a has-been star.

They couldn’t be more wrong. It’s a fast-paced and tightly plotted picture that actually improves on Lee Child’s rather anti-climactic novel. The characters are better drawn and the relationships more engaging. Child can describe a punch up in intimate detail but he’s lost when it comes to emotions.

Like a faintly creepy mantra, in the novel Reacher keeps repeating how his colleague Major Susan Turner (played by Cobie Smulders), with whom he’s investigating an arms-smuggling operation, is “totally worth it.” It’s like something out of the infamous Donald Trump-Billy Bush Access Hollywood video.

By contrast, in the movie the relationship between Reacher and Turner remains wisely chaste. Instead, there is some droll battle-of-the-sexes stuff and an almost touching relationship between Reacher and a 15-year-old girl, Samantha (Danika Yarosh), who may or may not be his daughter.

Above all, however, the movie is a pleasurable testament to a rare thing in this age of spectacle-driven entertainment: good, old-fashioned star power.

It’s been over a decade since Cruise’s cringemaking sofa-jumping on the Oprah Winfrey Show. But with his trademark focus and intensity he’s gradually rebuilt his blockbuster credentials, largely off the back of two well-received Mission Impossible movies, Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation.

In the intervening years few actors with bona-fide movie star chops have emerged and almost none who don’t wear a superhero costume (that rules out Robert Downey Jr.), Channing Tatum and Ryan Gosling? Maybe, although all of those have their share of flops.

Stars who can still open a picture off the back of their traditional appeal—in other words, when playing to type—are still those, like Cruise and Tom Hanks (currently flying high in Scully) who made it in the ’80s. Thirty years ago people!

Russell Crowe’s gone to fat. Johnny Depp’s flamed out. Only Leonardo DiCaprio is demonstrating a longevity to match Cruise’s.

And Cruise is at peak movie starriness in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, burning with charisma and purpose and old-school, don’t-mess-with-the-hero machismo.

Everyone protested when the diminutive Top Gun star was cast as the towering, hard-nut hero of Lee Child’s phenomenally successful thrillers in 2012’s Jack Reacher. A drifting ex-military cop, Reacher settles most matters with his fists. He is 6′ 5.” Cruise is a mere 5′ 7.” Liam Neeson would have been perfect but he’s not so young anymore.

Still, after a soft opening weekend at the U.S. box office ($15 million) following a special New York premiere screening cancelled in the wake of the Newtown massacre, Jack Reacher went on to earn $218 million globally and, crucially, build a large following in home entertainment.

“It was unbelievably successful in all its release platforms after theatrical” says producer Don Granger.

Credit Christopher McQuarrie with that. A master of the modern thriller (he wrote The Usual Suspects) he penned and directed Jack Reacher and went on to write and direct last year’s Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation—the best of the lot.

He’s a producer of Never Go Back, which is directed by Edward Zwick, and knows how best to use Cruise’s magnetism: lots of running and fighting, yes, but also engagement with characters who reveal the bruised vulnerability beneath Cruise/Reacher’s mask of self-possession.

Reacher the monosyllabic loner becomes more human and endearing thanks to his sparky relationship with Smulders’ Turner and the troubled but resourceful young Samantha.

It’s nothing you haven’t seen before but when the multiplexes are bursting with dud, overblown blockbusters, a film that relies on star power and character (how very ’90s) is to be celebrated.

The bad guys are the same as in the book—high-ups in the Washington establishment. It means the cinematic Reacher should resonate more now than he did in 2012—a hero distrustful of elites and authority who does things his own unique way.

He must be Donald Trump’s kinda guy after all. What The Donald needs is a bit of Cruise control.