Film: “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back”; Director: Edward Zwick; Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh; Rating: ****

Tom Cruise has arrived at a stage in his career where his handsome personality needs to be substantiated by roles that redefine his celluloid heroism beyond the physical stunts. Okay, we have seen him plunge down skyscrapers. He really can’t keep doing what’s expected of him (you know, be smart, sassy and cool).

This time, Cruise is ready and willing to show the emotional bruise. His character Jack Reacher is a loner. He says so himself at one point of rare self-confession. He is an army renegade and a social misfit. And he likes it that way.

So what happens when he is thrown together in a bright motel room with two other misfits, both women’ The great joy of watching “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is to see Cruise and his co-star Cobie Smulders clumsily attempting parenting to a 15-year-old girl Sam (Danish Yarosh) who may or may not be his biological daughter.

It’s like watching three strangers playing ‘housie’ on a particularly exciting day when the Gods have decided to rain an unseasonal harvest. As the awkward trio tries to create an inhabitable space for themselves within the given ambit of their shared awkwardness, a deadly assassin (Patrick Heusinger) hunts them down until the young girl is left to fend for herself.

“She is on the streets. That’s what I’d do,” surmises Reacher reaching out to the endangered girl. So is she or is she not his daughter’

The blend of a clenched action and reined-in emotions, some of it smartly and tenderly shot within the confines of residential space, is uniquely executed. The acting by the three principal actors is far superior than the material outwardly suggests.

Cruise plays it so low-key, we have to search his face for clues to his emotions. He won’t give anything away easily. The last time I saw Cruise so much in control of his character’s turbulent emotions was in “The Last Samurai”, also directed by Zwick.

Maybe Cruise and Zwick should do a sequel to “Top Gun”. It’s never too late. That’s what this film tells us.

The two ladies he is thrown together with are tough and tender, put through the blender of a political crisis far too immense to be comprehended let alone controlled by three fugitives.

“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” re-visits the vintage era of espionage thrillers when the action did not overpower the drama. The director executes the plot of illegal arms deals by a rebellious faction of the US army, with a firmly-concealed bravura.

The action scenes when they happen, are done with a pinned-down flair. The film moves forward like a tightly-wound well-oiled machine. It is smart supple and sassy but never willing to overreach itself.

The climactic outbreak, shot amidst the colour vivacity and din of a street carnival in New Orleans, is a feast of tasteful flamboyance broken by bouts of bone-crunching action.

But what stayed with me was the finale when Reacher meets his screen daughter for the last time. By then, it doesn’t matter whether she is his daughter or not. What we see is Tom Cruise the father, reaching into his paternal emotions deep within to confer his character with a credible emotional reservoir.

Not just Tom Cruise’s finest hour, this is a film that does the espionage genre proud.

What it says about the spy films is that the real intrigue is not to be tamed by the muzzle of the gun, and obtained in places which confidential government files have no record of.

By Subhash K. Jha

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