Friday, May 24, 2013

Movie Review: Jack Reacher

Spoilers ahead, although I hesitate to call them "spoilers," given that this movie is essentially a two-hour string of tough-guy movie cliches.

What a manly movie this is. From the bar fight where Reacher (played by Tom Cruise) handily defeats five troublemakers, to the abduction of the female lead (forcing Reacher to race into action), to the climactic duel where Reacher throws away his gun so that he can beat up the villain with his own bare hands, it's clear that this is a movie made for men about men who do manly things.

In fact, excluding the women who are killed in the first five minutes of the film, and excluding the women who are only on-screen long enough to gaze adoringly at Jack Reacher, there are only two female characters in this film. There's the flirty-but-ill-fated young woman who is killed halfway through the film in order to give Reacher something to feel manly guilt and grief over (during her non-dead screen time, she is asked why she allows men to use her so badly, and she replies: "It's just what girls like me do."). Then there's the female lead, the plucky lawyer who, near the end of the film, disobeys Reacher's instructions by investigating the Big Conspiracy on her own, and is almost immediately tasered and held prisoner. Silly female character; if she had just done what Reacher had told her to do, she would have been fine.

What I find just as disturbing is the subtext in this film that seems to tell us that for certain kinds of crime, it's appropriate and necessary to cast aside due process and the rule of law. Early in the film, Helen (the female lawyer, played by Rosamund Pike) asks Reacher to help her investigate a horrific crime in which a sniper kills five random people. Helen will be defending the shooter; Reacher tells her that he will only agree to assist her if she speaks to the families of the victims. The movie then dedicates a fair amount of screen time to walking us through the innocence of the victims, the tragedy of their deaths, and the grief of their families. The father of one victim is furious at Helen for choosing to defend the shooter; when Helen returns to Reacher, she expresses some doubt over whether the shooter deserves a fair trial.

Reacher does agree to investigate this crime, in stereotypical lone-wolf fashion, and by the end of the film, he's run afoul of the law himself, and is trying to beat the bad guys while staying clear of the authorities. To underline the whole "the law cannot interfere with the anger of a righteous man" message, when a crucial antagonist informs Reacher that he will probably not be convicted for the crimes he was party to, Reacher simply shoots the man. Helen asks him, "What about bringing the guilty to justice?" and Reacher says "I just did."

I could write this off as typical tough-guy "taking the law into his own hands" stuff, but the heavy-handed indictment of the legal process, as demonstrated by the "interviewing the victims" scenes, puts an entirely different spin on the whole thing. It was merely weeks ago that important men in my government were publicly stating that due process can be dispensed with for certain type of people and certain types of crime. Such statements, combined with the ever-widening definition of what constitutes a terrorist, give me what I believe to be legitimate concern over the longevity of my human rights.

If America is quietly giving up its founding principles, I'd really prefer that we didn't have folks standing up in movie theaters and cheering about it.