Before “Mission: Impossible,” Cruise and McQuarrie Gave Us “Jack Reacher,” the Hero Who Needs No Pen!

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“It’s Leah Remini, floor it!”

Kevin: The 2008 “darn it, we ALMOST killed Hitler” thriller “Valkyrie” wouldn’t by itself be considered a particularly noteworthy entry on Tom Cruise’s resume, were it not for the fact that without the partnership that began between the star and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie on the film, we wouldn’t have such subsequent Cruise classics as “Edge of Tomorrow” and the last two “Mission: Impossible” sequels (both also directed by McQuarrie). “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is out this weekend and getting the best the reviews in the franchise’s history, and while TGD will have more to say on it next week, for the time being I can attest that the film is the real deal: an old-school summer blockbuster packed with thrilling set pieces and death-defying practical effects.

It also hearkens back to a time when you could justify your enjoyment of these kinds of films without having to be all “Hey what do you expect, actual quality? It’s a summer movie, just turn your brain off.” Of course McQuarrie’s chops as an action director were already on display in his first collaboration with Cruise on “Jack Reacher,” which also features one of the both goofiest and greatest “here’s how badass the hero is” moments in film history:

Like the throwback charms of “Fallout,” if you didn’t know that “Jack Reacher” was released in 2012 you would be forgiven for assuming it is straight from the 1980’s. It doesn’t involve saving world, but is instead a simple murder mystery featuring a sinister European villain, numerous fistfights and shootouts, and a climax set at that old action movie standby, the abandoned construction site. It also has bureaucrats who look over a file and discuss our hero’s military background (including secret medals) and special set of skills, the hero tossing his gun away so he can go man-a-mano with a henchman, and the hero executing one of bad guys before saying he got justice. It even features an awesome third-act car chase that shares a lot in common with the helicopter battle in “Fallout” in terms of showing Cruise behind the wheel and in the action for most of the duration.

Most importantly though, Cruise’s Jack Reacher is the kind of protagonist that all but disappeared as we got into the ‘90s: the awesome hero whose only flaw is that not everyone immediately recognizes his awesomeness. Apparently Reacher is a Sherlock Holmes-level investigator, a world-class marksman, a fighter who can best men twice his size, and probably even a legendary lover, based on the brief glimpse we see of a super hot chick putting her clothes back on while he’s lounging in bed watching CNN. He’s also hilariously rude and condescending to everyone he comes across, and were another actor playing him we’d find him insufferable, but Cruise makes his assholishness entertaining in the same way he made us root for a dangerously insubordinate pilot who will likely get many of his wingmen killed.

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Reacher also has a Rain Man-eque ability to remember even the tiniest clue, which comes in to play in the following scene, which also features the good old “hero tells villain how badly he is about to fuck him up” speech. The bad guy, played by a pre-“Suicide Squad” Jai Courtney, has kidnapped Reacher’s love interest in order to lure him into a trap, but as usual Reacher is three steps ahead and forces him to agree to a meeting at a different location. Now normally Tom Cruise threatening to beat a man to death and drink his blood from a boot would be the highlight of any scene, but my favorite moment occurs at the end of the clip, when Courtney is about to give Reacher the address of the meeting spot and asks if he has a pen:

“Don’t need one.” Oh my god, he doesn’t need a pen, this guy is awesome! If Courtney’s character wasn’t shitting his pants in fear now, the fact that Reacher can apparently remember basic addresses should have had him immediately fleeing to Canada, where Reacher’s rude manners would permanently bar him from entry.

That the movie treats this as a totally unironic badass hero moment is one of the many reasons I love “Jack Reacher.” Although I would have loved it even more if there was a scene later where Reacher is driving around aimlessly and muttering, “Wait, was it 2236 Stonelake Blvd. or 2263? And why do they have a Stonelake Blvd., a Stonelake Ave., AND a Stonelake Circle!? And why didn’t I just write the damn address down?”

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