Tuesday 12 December 2017

Cruise reaches for laughs, not menace

MOVIES: Superstar camps it up, but just about nails the tough-guy role, says GEORGE BYRNE

JACK REACHER Action/Thriller. Starring Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, Richard Jenkins, Robert Duvall, Werner Herzog. Directed by Christopher McQuarrie. Cert 12A

When it was announced that Lee Child's fictional creation Jack Reacher, the hero of 17 novels, was to finally make it to the cinema, the reaction of fans of the series, and there are millions of them worldwide, was, at the very best, mixed. When people have a picture of a character in their heads it can be tricky trying to win them over by having an actor bring them to life and in this case the negative response was understandable.

According to the books Jack Reacher is a blond, 250lb, 6ft 5in slab of menace and meanness, whereas Tom Cruise is dark-haired, weighs considerably less than 250lb and is some way short hitting the 6ft 5in mark. Mind you, in the past he has proved he can do a menacing turn when required -- Interview with the Vampire, Collateral and Magnolia spring to mind -- and he turns in a solid enough performance here, although one that's not without its flaws.


The film and, lest we forget, the franchise begins with an unseen sniper murdering five seemingly random people in Pittsburgh, after which a former army marksman is arrested and all evidence points to his guilt. With DA Radin (Richard Jenkins) and Detective Emerson (David Oyelowo) waiting for a confession from the suspect, he'll only write the words, 'Get Jack Reacher' on a piece of paper and that sets up the entrance of our mysterious hero.

We learn that Reacher, a former Military Police investigator, is a drifter, a 'ghost' who's off the grid and virtually uncontactable, so it's rather handy when he turns up out of the blue and starts looking into the case. Reacher joins forces with a defence attorney, Helen Radin (Rosamund Pike, sporting what looks like stunt cleavage), who happens to be the DA's daughter and begins to suspect that the case is not as open-and-shut as it seems.

The set-up for the story is solid if unspectacular, but it's the oddities in the way director Christopher McQuarrie (who scripted The Usual Suspects) approaches the material that may set heads scratching. There's an element of camp about the way every woman gives Reacher the eye, whereas Cruise plays the character as seemingly asexual.

On the plus side, however, there's the inspired casting of Werner Herzog as the chief villain. Having one of the maddest figures in world cinema play a baddie even the Bond producers would baulk at was a genius move, but even that has a downside. Herzog, with his distinctive Bavarian bark, makes such an impression in his first scene, in which he explains how he bit his own fingers off in a Siberian prison camp, that the movie never really recovers.

Jack Reacher is a decent slice of pulp entertainment, with a decent supporting cast and some hard-boiled dialogue, but there's always the nagging feeling that Cruise isn't sure whether or not he's playing this for laughs, and that is not what his character is about at all. HHHII

MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN Drama. Starring Satya Bhabha, Siddharth Narayan, Seema Biswas, Rajat Kapoor, Shriya Saran, Charles Dance. Directed by Deepa Mehta. Cert 12A

There's a telling quote on the poster for Midnight's Children in which Salman Rushdie says, "I'm very proud of this film". Well he would, wouldn't he, given that it's an adaptation of his Booker Prize-winning novel? Oh, and he also wrote the screenplay. And acts as the narrator. Hmmmh.

Letting a novelist write the screenplay for an adaptation of their own book is a dangerous game, given that they tend to be very protective of their work and are usually reluctant to have anything left out, and that's certainly the feeling that permeates Midnight's Children.

The sprawling story focuses on Saleem (Satya Bhabha) and Shiva (Siddharth Narayan), both born on the stroke of midnight as India became independent in 1947 to parents from drastically different socio-economic circumstances and swapped by a nurse (Seema Biswas) as a form of social protest. It transpires that all children born close to that historic moment have superhuman powers of one kind or another, but as the story meanders through India's subsequent difficulties in attempting to discover its true identity as a nation, the metaphors for what these children represent become increasingly obvious and laboured.

A generous TV adaptation might well have served the source material much better because as a movie Midnight's Children feels too rushed, even at over two and quarter hours, to tell the story with any real feeling or purpose.


NEIL YOUNG: JOURNEYS Documentary. Featuring Neil Young. Directed by Jonathan Demme. Cert General

Jonathan Demme's third film with the Canadian troubadour follows Young's solo tour in the summer of 2011 as he travels from his hometown of Omemee in north Ontario, the subject matter of his classic song Helpless, to a gig at Toronto's beautiful Massey Hall, scene of a legendary concert in 1971.

The film intercuts scenes of Young chatting amiably about his upbringing with performance footage, most notably a version of Ohio which sounds as furious now as when it was written in the wake of the shooting dead of four students at an anti-Vietnam War protest in 1970.

However, viewers of a nervous disposition should be warned that for two numbers Demme has chosen to use a camera placed on Young's mike stand, with the singer's face looming large and filling the entire screen as spittle flies all over the place. Not even the most ardent fan wants to be that close to Neil Young. HHHII

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