Saturday, February 17 , 2018, 2:10 pm | Fair 65º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’

3 Stars — Troubling

Superhero stories come in a variety of forms ranging from Superman, the idyllic moral man of justice, to Sully Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who did something extraordinary by saving the lives of 155 souls in the Hudson River in New York City.

There are also those who fight our enemies, foreign and domestic, on and off the battlefield, and sometimes choose to fight evil by indulging the tactics of evil, fighting fire with fire. Unfortunately, it is impossible to play with this kind of fire without being seriously burned.

In Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, it is the second time that Tom Cruise has played the brooding former soldier who now lives his life in the shadows of society but is reluctantly drawn back into the nasty world of murder and espionage against his will. Trained in the military to be the equivalent of a part-Navy SEAL and part-assassin, Jack Reacher has gone from being a highly prized and decorated officer to a man who would just as soon be left alone, off the social grid, to recover his soul.

Military stories make for good heroes, but they are often set in the midst of violent conflicts that are hard to watch and troubling to the moral fiber at every level of our human experience.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back takes us into the underbelly of both government and military where there is a segment of the leadership that is willing to go to any end to profit themselves, even at the expense of others. In this case, it involves smuggling narcotics and arms while occasionally killing our own soldiers to cover up the crime.

Reacher is the cleanup agent who is brought back out of the shadows to cut through the twists and turns of intrigue and root out the bad guys — even if it means living in their world and using their destructive tactics. The toll it has taken on Reacher is obvious as he has no friends, no family, and broods over his sins.

To add to his confusion is the arrival of Samantha (Danika Yarosh), a young girl who just might be his daughter from any earlier one-night stand. Having any emotional ties to anyone is a dangerous liability when living in the underworld of murder and greed, which makes her appearance even more troubling.

We won’t give away the plot, but hero stories are always about “good” winning over “evil,” even if there are bloody battles along the way.

If you do not like witnessing violence, then this may not be the movie for you. The twists and turns of the plot make for a good story, though, even if it is absent of some good quotable lines such as in A Few Good Men, Cruise’s iconic 1992 murder mystery with Jack Nicholson.

One thing that has changed since the early 1990s is the fact that society is more cynical about the potential for evil and lying to occur in government. Maybe, to some extent, this is due to the excesses of social media and the Internet saturation of conspiracy theories.

The more we know, and the more we are exposed to thousands of impressions of society that in earlier years would have passed us by, it turns out that we often feel like we know less than ever.

With so much information and so little ability to digest it, we are left cynical and disillusioned about who is telling the truth. It is no wonder that the current presidential election cycle highlights the extreme sense of disconnection that is pervasive throughout the country and the world.

There is a psychic sense of satisfaction that comes from witnessing heroes succeed in overcoming evil in this world, whether it be in the form of Spider-Man or the local soldier we meet on the street.

Jack Reacher reminds us that overcoming evil requires sacrifice, and that sacrifice may come in many forms, including giving up your soul for the sake of others. As the great 18th century parliamentarian, Edmund Burke, said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”


» In this day when truth is difficult to discern how are you navigating the conflicting claims in the social media?

» To use evil to fight evil only multiplies the evil. How do you deal with the evil in the world?

» What do you think government and the military should do when someone abuses their position for personal gain?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the retired pastor of Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara and lead superintendent of Free Methodist Church in Southern California. For more reviews, visit, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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