“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” movie review

jackreacherposterOutstanding action movie! Paramount Pictures and Skydance’s Jack Reacher: Never Go Back simply does not disappoint. Jack Reacher may never become a household name like James Bond or Jason Bourne, but Tom Cruise proves once again that he truly is an action hero. Furthermore, Cruise is probably the best example of a movie star in the classical sense. You know an actor is truly a movie star when the public refers to his or her movies as “the new Tom Cruise movie.” Even the Bourne and Bond movies are not referred to by the respective actors. Lee Childs’ best-seller makes for an excellent cinematic military conspiracy action thriller! Separating this Reacher installment from the previous one and the Bond and Bourne movies is the fact that Childs and writer-director Edward Zwick give Reacher a pseudo-nuclear family. Although action movies are the epitome of high concept films, by adding a pseudo-nuclear family, a very human element is added to the story that adds some depth and allows for humor that otherwise wouldn’t work. Never Go Back comes complete with equal amounts of bad ass action and levity. Not terribly cerebral, this action-thriller provides audiences with a couple hours of high impact cinematic entertainment at which you can sit back, take your mind off life outside of the auditorium, and enjoy the action that only Tom Cruise can bring to the screen.

The Clint Eastwood-esque action hero is back. After busting a corrupt sheriff’s office in Oklahoma, Reacher (Cruise) finds himself amidst a conspiracy and coverup involving the C.O. (commanding officer) who took over his previous position. Mgr. Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) is arrested on charges of espionage. Believing strongly that Turner is being setup, Reacher doesn’t hold back in solving the mystery and taking out those who would stand in his way. Crossing paths with the military police himself, Reacher soon finds out that the corruption runs deeper than he first thought. When faced with not only the dilemma of Turner but also the possibility that he may have fathered a child, Reacher must fight two concurrent battles. With mind and body under attack, Reacher stops at nothing to exonerate Turner and provide protection for his possible daughter.

Upon watching this film, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Never Go Back and Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales, by all accounts a masterpiece by the legendary actor and filmmaker. Both stories are about a renegade/loner who acquires a family of sorts. Although the film is very well produced, there is a flaw in that it is apparent that Reacher wants to ‘reach’ further and delve deeper than the superficial plot allows for. Evidence of this is in his dialog that suggests that he wants to be a more dynamic individual who is capable of love and devotion but gets stuck being the action hero all the time because violence is the only thing at which he excels. One of the most prominent themes in the movie is the juxtaposition between high intensity fight scenes and deadpan humorous family drama. By including contrasting elements, the film provides a real opportunity to love the protagonists and hate the antagonists.

Cruise definitely displays some of the best acting of his career in this installment of the Jack Reacher series. He does an excellent job of communicating the difficulty in balancing both the defensive and offensive in terms of protecting his “family” and providing empathetic nurture. I suppose one could infer that the film contains a reimagined “nature vs. nurture” quandary. His reaction to his possible daughter is classic. Throughout the dialog and blocking, it is clear that Reacher is struggling with how to be a dad-like figure but also keep his focus on solving the mystery. Just like any Eastwood-esque story about a loner who has a taste of what being part of a family  is like, the movie ends with a fated goodbye scene between his ‘daughter’ Samantha (Danika Yarosh) and himself. But just before it get too heartbreaking, Zwick throws in a pleasant twist.

If you are in the mood for a good old-fashioned military conspiracy action drama, then look no further. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back strikes a fun balance between kung-fu movies and quirky family dramas. Cruise will definitely not disappoint in this film He does what he always does. Provides us with solid action-star acting coupled with some humor along the way.

“Pawn Sacrifice” movie review

Pawn_SacrificeOf chess and men. Pawn Sacrifice is based on the true story of chess prodigy Robert “Bobby” Fischer and his quest to become the world’s greatest chess player. The game at the center of the movie takes place during the height of the cold war against the USSR. Director Edward Zwick crafts a gripping story complete with beautiful cinematography and a brilliant cast. Toby Maguire brings a neurotic charisma and acute anger to the infamous chess player that few could have done so successfully while staying true to the real life Bobby Fischer. Although watching a chess game sounds like it would make for a dreadfully boring and static story, screenwriter Steven Knight (et al) provides a screenplay reeling with intense psychological “chess” moves while remaining focussed on the game that “captured” the eyes of the world. Not surprisingly, the pretentious and unrevealing title kept general audiences from watching it, even though it was initially released during the autumn movie graveyard of September. If there was ever a mystery as to why Fischer’s mental stability greatly suffered as a result of the tournament, this movie sheds light on the obsessive compulsive struggles of a man who was focussed on beating the Soviets at their own game.

American and world-renown chess legend Bobby Fischer faces his greatest challenge yet: the world’s best chess grandmaster Soviet Boris Spassky. From the time he was 12 years old, Fischer began to capture the attention of the chess community of New York and soon the whole country. It was clear that Fischer was truly a prodigy who was destined for greatness in the strategic calculating game. In addition to having a brilliant mind for planning, predicting, and observation, he equally suffered because of his strength. Finding it nearly unbearable to tolerate anything that even slightly aggravated him, Fischer became as notorious as he was talented. Representing the United States, Fischer sees this as a strategic opportunity to outsmart and beat the Soviets, as the game is symbolic of the actual cold war that both countries were involved in. Follow his personal journey of triumph and defeat as he must play the most important game of his life with millions of people watching–some wanting him to succeed while others want him to fail.

The greatest strength in this bio pic is that it takes an otherwise boring game to watch; and creates an atmosphere of intrigue and suspense that parallels both the Cold War itself and the personal/interpersonal relationships between Fischer and his staff, family, and the public. What’s even more astonishing is that this somewhat fictional counterpart to the documentary on Bobby Fischer was able to be sourced for a feature-length narrative film. Unlike the documentary, Pawn Sacrifice goes back to the childhood and adolescent years of the prodigy in order for the audience to make a better connection with his character than can typically be done in a documentary. While the famous 21-match game takes up nearly half the screen time, there is still sufficient material, focussing on the development of Fischer, that it creates an atmosphere that draws you into the game in the latter half of the movie. Although the movie is about Fischer and chess, the degree to which Fischer shows dedication, immense passion, and uncompromising intellect can serve to make a connection with anyone who is passionate about a lifelong dream or aspiration.

One of the elements of Fisher’s upbringing that played a huge role in his anti-communistic paranoia is his mother’s communist activism. Sadly, that part of his life is merely touched upon and not explored very much. Spending more time on his mother’s activism and his hatred of anything remotely communistic could have provided more support for his bizarre behaviors during the tournament against the Soviets. While Fischer is at the center of the movie, he has two excellently written side kicks: (1) a patriotic attorney who attempts to keep Fischer on the right track as an American symbol and (2) a chess grandmaster priest who coached Fischer when he was younger and one of the only players to ever beat him. The character dynamics make the group intriguing to watch. Each so very different, but require the other in order to journey towards the chess world championship. It took amazing determination and long-suffering resilience to attempt to contain the unpredictable and extremely temperamental Bobby Fischer.

If you are looking for a movie to inspire you to be a better chess player, then you may be a little disappointed because you will see much more slapping of the time clocks than the movement of the pieces on the board; however, Zwick does cinematically work in some movements and strategy into the diegesis of the film. Thankfully the movie is shot beautifully and possesses an excellent pacing with strong diegetic structure. There is also some wonderful production and set design that will likely get overlooked since the game is really the focus and mostly occurs in very nondescript rooms. Pawn Sacrifice highlights one of the most famous chess games in all of modern history while getting a glimpse into the mind of a genius turned expat in the end.