Sunday, December 30, 2012

'Jack Reacher' (2012) directed by Christopher McQuarrie, 28th December 2012

'Jack Reacher' isn't just a bad film, it's a poisonous one.  The film deifies dead-eyed, masculine narcissism, showing us a portrait of a monster and expecting us to wank ourselves silly in admiration and respect.  What 'Jack Reacher' asks us to admire and emulate is the hateful and negative: emotional auto-castration, superiority complexes, alpha male posturing, casual sadism and the paternalistic shaming of sexuality.  Among shitty films it's a rarity, being not only boring and offensive but one that will make the world outside the theatre an imperceptibly worse one.

The film revolves entirely around Tom Cruise's Jack Reacher, a character so utterly ridiculous and preening that only someone with Cruise's grotesquely overdeveloped ego would even consider playing him.  This is the kind of film where when our hero is not on screen, the characters are talking about how amazing he is.  When he is on screen he smirks and slimes his way through scenes, every action calculated to show up exactly how incompetent every other character in the film is compared to the inestimable Jack Reacher.

Rosumund Pike as she realises she needs to get a better agent.
He's the kind of man who can do everything a little better than you.  You know that prick friend-of-a-friend who's always desperate to one-up everything you do?  If you tell him that you've done a bungee jump, he's done a skydive.  If you went out for a nice dinner, he's just got back from a Michelin starred private tasting.  That kind of dick.  Well, that's Reacher.  If a character in the film has any kind of talent, then Reacher effortlessly outclasses them.  He's not just a soldier, he's a policeman of soldiers!  He's an expert driver!  He's got a photographic memory!  He can fight five men at once!  He's a crack shot!  He can see the links in the case that no-one else can see!  Women collapse into shuddering piles of pleasure at his presence!  Men cower in fear at the sight of him!  

If this character were written by a five year old I might be able to understand it.  He's the parody action movie character played straight, the kind of person so ridiculous that the audience should be giggling at his vanity.  The cherry on top of this shit sandwich is that this supposed titan is played by a saggy looking Tom Cruise.  He is a ridiculous little man, and none more so than when he expects us to take him seriously as the paragon of masculinity.

Inflicting pain is so 'in', darling.
If you want to see the real-life Jack Reachers in action just spend five minutes reading a Men's Rights forum (or see them on this tumblr).  These towering examples of manhood equate success with an emotional numbness, a smug denial of affection and kindness towards others and a certainty at their own rightful place as the centre of the moral universe.  'Jack Reacher' validates this warped philosophy, giving these damaged people a peek into a world where their twisted self righteousness causes them to be revered as gods.

This is a dangerous film,  it actively encourages a conservative, pettily violent, vindictive small-mindedness and ignores any negative consequences.  Jack Reacher has no friends, no passions except violence and lives on the margins of society.  The film romanticises this lone wolf lifestyle, characters that do develop interpersonal relationships in the film are invariably betrayed or abandoned.  It's a conscious rejection of the rest of humanity: taking solace in the knowledge that if you can't love your fellow man, you can at least break his fingers one by one as he screams in terror.

a real hero a real human being a real hero a real human being a real hero a real human being
I was reminded repeatedly during this film of Nicholas Winding Refn's 'Drive', which might be my favourite film of 2011.  Why do I find Ryan Gosling's 'Driver' more interesting and acceptable than Jack Reacher?  Driver is a very similar character to Reacher, both live solitary lifestyles, both are emotionally stunted and both are capable of extreme, reflexive violence.   'Drive' is a success because it shows us the recognisable human reaction to the extreme violence meted out by its hero.  There is a scene where Driver realises that he and the women he has grown to love are in immediate danger, he kisses her, then turns and beats a man to death, stamping on his face over and over again.  He looks up see her shocked face as she realises his real nature.  It's this look of fear from her that's key.  As much as we might take a thrill in the violence of the 'Drive', it's leavened with the message that actions like these lead to isolation, a lonely, aimless emptiness.  

'Jack Reacher' takes the opposite tack; violence and antisocial behaviour leading to isolation is a good thing.  What's important is proving that you're more of a man than anyone else around you by either inflicting pain or demonstrating how you're effortlessly 'better' than them.  How else can you explain the scene where Reacher begins to explain to Helen (played in a kind of numb stupor by Rosamund Pike) what really happened in the case the plot explores?  He refuses to actually tell her what's happened, but writes down the solution on a post-it note and hands it to her, telling her to work it out for herself and then check the note.  You want to yell at the screen "just fucking TELL her you dick!", but we're forced to sit through another scene of Reacher posing smugly waiting for everyone to catch up with him.

Women are sluts am I rite?
Every single second of the film is repugnant to various degrees, but there are a few moments that define this nihilistic apocalypse of a human being that we're supposed to be cheering on.  He tortures a man by systematically breaking his fingers, a wry smile on his face as he gets the information out of him.  He bullies a terrified teenage girl into giving him her car.  He sexually intimidates the female lead.  He executes a defenceless man.  He calls a woman a "slut" for coming onto him in a bar.

Perhaps the defence for all this is that he's not supposed to be a hero, after all, he does say "You think I'm a hero? I am not a hero. And if you're smart, that scares you. Because I have nothing to lose.".  But despite saying this, he clearly is the hero, at least as far the narrative is concerned.  He beats the bad guy, saves the day and rescues the girl.  Perhaps another actor could have injected the role with a certain knowing attitude, someone who could play an egotistical 'Mr Perfect' like Reacher and get away with it purely through a natural charisma.  Tom Cruise is not that person, there's not an ironic bone in his body, every mannerism here is that of the well-fed, self satisfied star who is absolutely sure they're the most important person in the film, and probably on the planet.  The entire exercise reeks of stroking the Cruise ego, especially an excruciating scene where he lounges around without his shirt on.

.... christ man, why..
So there's that.  But there's worse.  The villain in this piece of shit is played by none other than Werner Herzog.  Oh Werner.  Whatever they've got on you wasn't worth this humiliation.  There's nothing more painful than watching someone you respect debase themselves.  Herzog is probably my favourite director, and I always enjoy his acting performances whenever he pops up in random films (he was primarily why I saw this film).  But not this time.  His arch, doomy persona is prostituted to the fullest, pimped out in service of a z-grade Bond villain gimmick.  He makes the best of some atrocious dialogue, but there's a sense of shame behind his eyes that I've never seen in him before.  The jungle couldn't defeat him.  'Insignificant' bullets barely faze him.  He even survived the towering rants of Klaus Kinski.  He looks lost, confused as to how he's ended up in what he must know is a terrible film.  I hope to god whatever he got paid for this was worth it.

A defender of this film might point out the realistic nature of the action sequences, the clever sound design of the car chase sequence, the tactical realism of the final bullet-strewn action sequence or the visually enticing introduction scenes.  But these are nothing more than blossoms haphazardly poking out of a freshly laid turd.  Film is a powerful medium, and films like this fuel violent, solipsistic power fantasies in stupid, frustrated people.  It's a dangerous piece of propaganda for stunted emotional growth, and everyone involved with it should be utterly ashamed of themselves.

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