Rob’s Car Movie Review: Jack Reacher (2012)

Think back on the multitudes of car movies you’ve watched over the course of your life and you’re bound to notice that Hollywood has a penchant for featuring certain cars over and over again.

In many action thrillers with slick or well-heeled protagonists, you’ll see various and sundry Mercedes-Benzes, Porsches, Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Switch the subgenre to modern street racing, and the same Nissan GTRs, Toyota Supras, Mitsubishi EVOs and Subaru WRX STis will make their appearance.

But old school American muscle cars seem to transcend film genres and show up as the steed of many a hero or antihero when the story calls for them to be depicted as a cool customer or a rebel.

In these instances, we again tend to see similar types of vehicles featured. There’s the ubiquitous, vintage Ford Mustangs, the early ‘70s E-body Challengers and Barracudas, the C2 and C3 Corvettes, and of course, the Pontiac Trans Ams.

And then there’s those glorious A-Body Chevelles. Appearing in such films as Drive Angry, John Wick, The Other Guys, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and Tales From The Crypt, Chevelles never fail to make an indelible impression on screen.

Perhaps in no recent film is this more true than in the 2012 actioner, Jack Reacher, where a glorious, 1970 Chevelle SS is put through its paces in one of the best chase sequences of the past 20 years.

In this month’s edition of Rob’s Car Movie Review we’re gonna take a good long look at the movie, and learn all we can about the Chevelle and a smattering of other cool cars that make an appearance in it.

Are you ready? Then let’s hit it!

The theatrical one-sheet poster for Jack Reacher. (Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures.)

The movie’s eponymous protagonist, Jack Reacher, originated from a character created by Lee Child in his series of crime thriller books. After the first installment in the series, Killing Floor, debuted in 1997, multiple attempts to adapt the properties into a feature film had failed. In 2005, Tom Cruise’s production company, Cruise/Wagner Productions, optioned the film rights and was given a green light and funding to produce it by Paramount Pictures.

The ninth book in the series, One Shot, was chosen to be adapted. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie of The Usual Suspects and Valkyrie fame was brought on board to rewrite an early draft of the script and ultimately direct the film.

Starring, naturally, was Tom Cruise, supported by Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog, David Oyelowo, Joseph Sikora and Robert Duval. With casting for the film announced, many fans of the books were disappointed with the choice of Cruise, who, at 5’7″, is a rather diminutive figure compared to Reacher, who was described in the books as being a powerful, 6’5″ juggernaut of a man.

Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.)

At the film’s onset, a deranged sniper guns down five seemingly random people at a Pittsburgh riverfront. Detective Emerson (Oyelowo) collects enough evidence at the crime scene to arrest mentally unstable ex-military sniper James Barr (Sikora), a man who went unprosecuted for a similar crime while serving in Iraq.

Upon questioning by the police and the local district attorney, Alex Rodin (Jenkins), Barr insists on speaking with Jack Reacher, a former military investigator who tried unsuccessfully to prosecute Barr for his Iraq crimes. Since leaving the service, Reacher has become a drifter, living largely off the grid.

The lovely Rosamund Pike as Helen Rodin. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.)

Reacher soon shows up on the scene, and though he is determined to help put Barr away for good this time, agrees to help gather evidence for Barr’s defense attorney, Helen Rodin (Pike), out of a desire to see that he gets a fair trial.

During the course of his investigation, Reacher is assaulted at a local bar by a gang of hoods, and correctly surmises that they were paid by someone to impede his efforts. His intuition proves correct when he is later framed for the murder of a young woman associated with the gang.

Joseph Sikora as James Barr. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.)

Now on the run from both the police and the mysterious villains intent on stopping him, Reacher finds evidence to suggest that the mass killing event was perhaps not the random act of a crazed gunman, but instead was possibly perpetrated by the very men who are after him.

When Helen is kidnapped by the main villains, Reacher, aided by former Marine sniper Cash (Duval), must contend with the bad guys, save Helen, and prove that Barr is innocent.

The legendary Robert Duval as Cash. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.)

Jack Reacher is a film with plenty of plusses and a few minuses. On the positive side, virtually all the performances are top notch, with Cruise putting in a calm, and rather understated characterization which contrasts nicely with some of his more manic, over-the-top, “look at me” type stuff. A special tip of the hat goes out as well to Robert Duval who is excellent as always, and to Rosamund Pike, who is luminous in every frame she occupies.

Likewise, the filmmaking itself is beyond reproach, with the production design, cinematography, editing, and sound work all meeting big budget, Hollywood standards.

Not as smooth though are some of the movie’s character motivations and cause-and-effect loops. More than once, I found myself needing a second thought for them to be fully digested. That’s not to say that the storytelling is muddled, rather it’s just kind of dense at times. There are many scenes in which multiple, important, plot advancements are divulged at once through rapid fire exposition, making the rewind button on your remote a very handy thing to have.

Controversial director, Werner Herzog, as The Zec, the film’s shadowy villain. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.)

For many of you out there, the biggest plus Jack Reacher offers are the cars, starting with the aforementioned Chevelle.

Draped in eye-popping Cranberry Red paint with dual, black hood and trunk stripes and a black interior, the car looks exactly like you’d want a ’70 to. Several shots in the film reveal 396 badges on the fenders, and a Hurst manual shifter that Reacher often aggressively rows. But as is true with many things in Hollywood films, all is not what it seems.

One of Jack Reacher’s Chevelles being prepped for filming. (Photo courtesy of Hot Cars.)

During pre-production, nine Chevelles in total were procured, mostly lower trim level models, some even lacking a V8. Only one of the nine cars was a legitimate SS 396 and it never actually made an appearance in the film. It was later purchased by Cruise himself, and still resides in his personal collection.

Movie car builders Pete Mandel, Justin Mann, Bill DeLuca, Trevor Mann, and Jeff Walters were hired to convert all of the cars to a seeming SS 396 spec, and to outfit each car with the transmissions and engines necessary for what each car’s role in the production would be. As is common practice in film production, some of the cars would be used for stunts and action sequences, and others for close ups and “beauty shots”.

Six of the nine Chevelles on set, ready for action. (Photo courtesy of Hot Cars.)

The Chevelles used for interior and beauty shots were all equipped with a 540ci V8s for a deep, rich exhaust note, Dart heads, Holley 850 cfm carburetors, and Muncie 4-speed manual transmissions with Hurst white-ball shifters and Centerforce clutches. The cars used for the stunts had 502ci big blocks and factory automatic transmissions.

As far as suspensions were concerned, the stunt cars were given beefed-up aftermarket front shocks, and rear Hotchkis sport kits, while the beauty cars rode on stock suspension.

Tom Cruise did all of his own stunt driving. (Photo courtesy of Hot Cars.)

The Chevelles are given numerous appearances in the film. In what is perhaps the most memorable scene in the entire movie, Tom Cruise, who it should be noted, did all his own stunt driving, engages in a lengthy high-speed chase with police and the bad guys. His Chevelle is pressed to the limit and weaves and dodges through traffic. Quite a sequence.

Ready for the chase. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.)

Sadly, as is the case in many action films, Jack Reacher’s car is not treated well. It incurs some severe damage during the chase which, for me was a rather hard thing to watch. It’s always difficult for a car nut knowing that an example or multiple examples of an increasingly rare classic car were totaled during the production of a film, but at least we can take solace in the notion that no actual SS 396s were harmed.

Sadly, the Chevelles incurred a lot of damage filming the chase sequence. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.)

The Chevelle isn’t the only prime muscle car in the movie. Also featured are a sinister, black 1975 Chevy Camaro with an aftermarket hood complete with NACA ducts, and a modded ’69 Mustang.

Also making appearances are a ’75 Camaro and a ’69 Mustang. (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.)

I found Jack Reacher to be a slightly flawed, but overall entertaining popcorn movie. Its excellent cast and well-filmed action sequences are matched by the wonderful cars that inhabit its mise-en-scene. You could do a lot worse than spend two hours with it. I give Jack Reacher six-and-a-half out of ten pistons.

About the author

Rob Finkelman

Rob combined his two great passions of writing and cars; and began authoring columns for several Formula 1 racing websites and Street Muscle Magazine. He is an avid automotive enthusiast with a burgeoning collection of classic and muscle cars.
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