Okay okay. I know this is a movie that came out a long time ago, but I feel like complaining about the patriarchy. Plus, like Anthony Lane, I am not above shooting fish in a barrel just for the cruel fun of it, although unlike Anthony Lane, I don’t get paid what I assume must be at least $100,000 a year to do it. Honestly, who has an easier job than Anthony Lane? I’m going to say “all of Mitt Romney’s human sons” and “person in coma who gets cosmetics tested on them.”
Also unlike Anthony Lane, I am reaching my limit with Dude/Dad Movies. Movies with a (usually white but not always (“Flight”)) male protagonist who does brave or shitty or bravely shitty things and we are supposed to just be delighted and thrilled by his development or lack thereof. And there’s a woman in the background putting on her bra. This is difficult because almost all movies fit this description, including half of the ones I want to see currently. But at least, if we have to have mainly Dude-Dad Movies, at LEAST let them be interesting or well-made, and not just the exact same tired old horseshit thoughtlessly reheated in a microwave and served to us like we’re supposed to find it thrilling. I have seen that movie already over and over again since I was 4 years old and I don’t need to see it again! I get it! America loves our sad/bad boys! I don’t want to be “that guy” but seriously, I just feel like I can’t take it anymore. Guess what? I will not be paying money to see Wolf on Wall Street. I will see Wolf on Wall Street on Netflix streaming the next time my husband and I want to “get drunk and talk during a movie,” which is something we like to do periodically, and which we did last week with JACK REACHER, ULTIMATE DUDE-DAD FANTASY MOVIE
I have to say, Jack Reacher (tagline: “if he’s coming for you, YOU DESERVE IT”) was really invigorating, because it’s such an extreme example of the Dude-Dad Movie Genre that it becomes a deeply poignant accidental parody of itself that just ended up making me feel so sorry for your average helpless-feeling middle-aged white dude/dad. The Omnipotent Genius Army Guy Vigilante Fantasy is stretched not to but actually BEYOND its limits in this movie, and thus the fantasy’s facade cracks open to reveal its hysterically powerless and fearful foundation deep in the psyche of middle-aged straight white dudedom. Future generations of scholars will study this movie endlessly for what it reveals about our era. Much like the classic characters of turn-of-the-century blackface minstrelsy, “Jack Reacher” will become a generic name for a character type lost to the sands of time, who our descendants will have to read whole books about in order to even vaguely understand how such a character could have ever been entertaining or compelling. “But didn’t they see how AWFUL and STUPID it was??” college students will ask, and humanities professors will struggle to explain the pull of our worst selves; the dirty pleasure of submitting to ugliness. Just kidding, there won’t be college anymore by that point!
Jack Reacher isn’t even nearly a character. He has no personality of any kind. He’s not even remotely likable or even vaguely human. He’s a collection of clichéd catch-phrases and the actions of a childish wish-fulfillment. He’s an archetype of a passing age, revealing the fundamental emptiness that archetype is based upon even as he strives to be the MOST omnipotent genius Army Guy ever depicted onscreen. In his desperate attempt to manifest heroism in a slack and cowardly society he actually becomes that guy who shot the guy for texting in the movie theater. He is the poignant projection of the impotent rage of the White Male Privilege currently in its death throes (believe it).
It’s just an incredible film. There’s a sniper and he kills a bunch of people for no reason. But instead of signing his confession he just scrawls “FIND JACK REACHER” on a notepad. The detectives are like “who the hell is Jack Reacher?” and somebody is like “You’ll never find him unless he wants to be found. He’s a ghost. He’s invisible. We’ve been looking for him for 10 years and haven’t found so much as a credit card receipt. He’s your worst nightmare. He’s—” but just then the phone rings and guess who it is? JACK REACHER! But how did he– But where– But who– Our nation’s peacekeepers sputter in befuddlement at this first instance of what will become their ceaseless besting at the hands of this manifestation of Macho Military Genius, whose naked back we immediately cut to. He holds a phone manfully to his ear while in the background a woman slips on her bra. This will be the last time we see Jack Reacher have any kind of connection with any other human, and I have no doubt it was added to the film later due to viewer discomfort à la the famous Top Gun Love Scene Debacle wherein test audiences were confused because it SEEMED like they were watching a homosexual love story, but that couldn’t be right, because this is a movie about military jets. Jack Reacher though doesn’t even have a passionate friendship with another dude to redeem his humanity, so I think audiences must have just filled out their surveys with things like “but who MADE the Jack Reacher robot?” and “didn’t understand if the robot came back from the future or what” and “why didn’t Jack Reacher go to jail at the end of the movie”
Jack Reacher cares for nothing but JUSTICE. He lives anonymously on his Army Genius pension, buying clothes at Goodwill and throwing his old clothes in the garbage can at Goodwill so no one can trace him (?). It turns out that a long time ago he knew the sniper in Iraq, and he delivers this long illustrated monologue where the sniper, trained to kill, sits in a crows nest for 8 tours and never gets to pull the trigger. Can you imagine the frustration? the pent-up aggression? Teaching a man to do nothing but shoot people and then not ever allowing him to shoot someone, every man’s secret dream? Consequently, what was the sniper to do but take his gun one time down to some anonymous Iraqi village square and murder a bunch of dudes randomly. This makes Jack Reacher mad, because of justice! He tells the sniper, if I ever see you again I’ll kill you? Or something. So this is why the sniper writes “FIND JACK REACHER” on the notepad, because he’s actually been FRAMED, and he knows that since Jack Reacher cares for nothing but justice, Jack Reacher will overcome his hate for the injustice the sniper did in Iraq in order to prove him innocent, because being found guilty when you’re innocent is ALSO UNJUST. How Jack Reacher goes about balancing the competing demands of overlaid justices and injustices is a question the movie doesn’t answer, although it turns out that the original unjust random murders in Iraq aren’t AS UNJUST as being found guilty of a different crime you DIDN’T commit, because it turned out later that all the Iraqi men he’d shot were coming from a “rape party,” which is just what it sounds like, and which, when Jack Reacher mentions it to the defense attorney who is defending the sniper with the sole intention of making her daddy mad, she grimly averts her face in appropriately feminine disgust. So even though the sniper didn’t know the guys were coming from a “rape party,” it turns out Jack Reacher is willing to let that one pass because he ultimately accidentally performed a very Jack-Reacher-esque bit of vigilante justice, even though he BELIEVED he was just murdering random humans due to being a psychopath.
Let me tell you that there is a scene where the female defense attorney is sitting at her desk all like “it doesn’t add up! I can’t figure out anything involved in this crazy ol’ case!” and she’s like shuffling crime scene photos around, and Jack Reacher is sitting above her on her own desk, smiling benevolently down at her cute struggles to have a single coherent idea or thought even though she is an incredibly highly-educated and accomplished lawyer, and then he literally writes something down on a post-it, folds it, puts it in her hand, and then the phone rings and somebody gives her a piece of information regarding the crime’s motive, and when she hangs up and looks at the post-it, it turns out that Jack Reacher had written THAT EXACT THING ON IT. Before they even got the phone call!!! How can she not drop to her knees and suck his dick INSTANTLY. He’s like Sherlock Holmes if Sherlock had no character traits, predilections, idiosyncrasies, or sense of humor. Also why did he bother with that post-it note trick? Jack Reacher is constantly hysterically making sure everybody knows how brilliant he is. He’ll suddenly recite the date on a quarter to you that you didn’t even see him look at! Even though this is meaningless, useless information, it’s important for him to let you know that he remembers stuff better than you do. He couldn’t just TELL HER the motive, he had to make this sad little magic trick out of it.
Similarly, there is a scene where Jack Reacher goes to a bar and a teenage girl hits on him and he immediately calls her a prostitute and her five brothers say they’re going to beat him up and she’s like “I don’t mind the sight of blood” and he goes “yeah because when you see blood it means you’re not pregnant” and that line is so ugly it’s like even the girl seems to step out of the movie for a second and her face is like “??WTF” although really you know she wants to fuck him. Then they go into the parking lot and Jack Reacher is like “here’s what’s gonna happen, I’m gonna take you out with one punch, and then those two friends are gonna run away, and these other two will stay to help, and then I’ll punch them both to death” and the guy’s like “ha ha you homo, NOBODY COULD KNOW ALL THAT” and then it all happens EXACTLY LIKE JACK REACHER SAID and the guy is like “HOW DID YOU KNOW ALL THAT”
Which like, if you were Jack Reacher how could you even inhabit the same universe as these punk kids? How could you even imagine wasting your time beating up random townies, much less showing off to said townies about how you knew you would win all along? Also I thought Jack Reacher was supposed to be all about the honor of women (the “rape party”) but here he is calling a woman a prostitute for no reason. WAIT, it turns out later he knew she was just a patsy all along, and he was just playing along, and so he goes to visit her where she works at the Best Buy or whatever, and he’s all “why don’t you take off, leave all this behind? Why do you keep hanging out with guys like that?” and she LITERALLY says:
“That’s what girls like me do.”
Too true! If by “girls like me” she means “girls that middle-aged angry white dudes jerk off thinking about slapping during sex.”
Also earlier in the movie he’d forced the attorney to go visit the families of all the people the sniper killed, to teach her a lesson about how you shouldn’t defend criminals. She says things like “I’m sorry, I’ve obviously made a horrible mistake” while the father of one of the dead people is like “HOW COULD YOU BE SUCH A MONSTER, MY DAUGHTER WAS ABOUT TO GO TO EUROPE TO LEARN ABOUT ART.” Then later when Jack Reacher is like “…how was YOUR day,” she’s like “I guess it went…about the way you wanted it to go.” She’s very contrite about having wasted her life becoming a defense attorney! It turned out she’d NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT how it would be sad for your daughter to get murdered. Once you realize that, though, you of course understand that the only sane course of action is for an ex-military genius to go around murdering people with impunity.
There is a car chase where Jack Reacher is driving a souped-up Mustang muscle car and then he gets out of it because the police are about to catch him and he sidles right into the crowd of onlookers, all of whom immediately shield him from the police–an old black man gives him his Phillies hat–because we all know the police are bullshit, but seriously, the crowd doesn’t know anything about this guy, he could have just kidnapped and murdered a little kid, he could be Jeffrey Dahmer (although poor Dahmer would never be able to handle a Mustang like that, real talk) but they don’t care because it’s exciting. Then he and the old man get on a bus and ride away together smiling. Is this a racial commentary? Police should stop being racist, or black people will start aiding and abetting white criminals? Sure, why not
I haven’t even mentioned the fact that WERNER HERZOG plays the villain; an indeterminately eastern-european guy who gnawed his own fingers off in a Soviet gulag (I think?? the timing seems off, wouldn’t he have to be like 90 years old? Maybe I misunderstood his backstory) and delivers wonderful amazing monologues about survival (I could not stop thinking about Paul F. Tompkins’ delightful parody of Herzog’s character in this film: “Who has two thumbs and very little else? I am such a person” ). There’s a scene where he’s betrayed by one of his henchmen, and he tells him he will shoot him in the head unless the henchman gnaws off HIS own fingers. The henchman is like “I can’t do it!” and Herzog is like “you are not like me, I would do anything to survive” and his main henchman shoots the other henchman in the head. Herzog’s motivations seemed really out of character–he’s supposed to be this incredible evil mastermind whose heinous experience in the gulag allowed him to transcend all human morality, but then the big crime he’s pulling off is just about trying to pressure a woman into selling her husband’s business.
The movie really becomes the apotheosis of this kind of movie at its rainy, explosive conclusion (involving Robert Duvall as an ex-marine who agrees to go with Jack Reacher and SHOOT LIKE TWENTY PEOPLE TO DEATH based solely on the fact that Jack Reacher used to be in the Army), during which there isn’t even a nod to “justice” but rather just a simple bloodbath during which Jack Reacher actually just murders every single bad guy in more-or-less cold blood, finishing with Herzog himself, who says American prison will be a cakewalk because America is so soft on its criminals, so Jack Reacher kills him because he knows Werner Herzog is right and we must have MAXIMUM PUNITIVITY for our bizarre psychotic generically easter-european fingerless bad guys, and isn’t it such a goddamn shame that America coddles its criminals, lo, if only Jack Reacher could finally rest but he can’t because the prison system is so cushy.
The final scene of the movie is Jack Reacher riding on a bus back into his anonymous life filled with bra-less women in the background. The defense attorney delivers a monologue about justice in voiceover, and then we hear from somewhere behind Jack Reacher a man’s voice say “you shut your mouth!” and then a SLAP and a woman’s cry! UH OH, UNCHIVALROUS INJUSTICE, we know there’s nothing that chaps Jack Reacher’s ass like rudeness to a woman, unless it’s himself calling a woman a whore for no reason! So the final shot of the film is Jack Reacher making this sort of shrugging “oh boy here we go again” expression and standing up manfully, to go murder the guy on the bus presumably.
It really was an amazingly apt movie to see directly before that jackass murdered that other guy in the movie theater. It’s a movie totally upholding the moral landscape blisteringly satirized in a great movie like “Super” where Rainn Wilson becomes so enraged by all rule-breaking that he murders a bunch of people, screaming hysterically in the apocalyptic finale: “YOU DON’T CUT IN LINE! YOU DON’T MOLEST CHILDREN!” as though those two infractions are equally weighted. Like texting in a movie theater–admittedly obnoxious and socially unacceptable–is as deserving of instant violent death as, I don’t know, genocide or something. YOU DON’T TEXT DURING A MOVIE! YOU DON’T MURDER AN ENTIRE PEOPLE! Jack Reacher is the embodiment of this totally un-nuanced, infantile moral code, and it was a terror and a privilege to be exposed to it in fictional form directly before being exposed to it in reality. That dude in Florida absolutely believes he is Jack Reacher, but what we find out is that real life is not like the movies, and that Jack Reacher in person is just a fucking awful empty sociopath with no joy in his life.
In conclusion, this movie RULES
Lane-style barrel-fish-shooting OVER. I promise my next review will be of some weirdo French film. Actually I just finally watched Claire Denis’ “White Material” and it was FUCKING INCREDIBLE but instead I had to spend 45 minutes of my life gleefully heaping scorn on Jack Reacher, sorry