“Jack Reacher” Ethics, Or Why It’s No Fun Going To Movies With Me

Jack ReacherI thought the Tom Cruise action film “Jack Reacher” would be a good way to escape from an aggravating day at the ethics grindstone, but no. It was rapidly apparent that this would be one of these movies with a sociopathic vigilante hero—Reacher (Cruise) is kind of a cross between Steven Segal and Billy Jack, summarily executing bad guys and completely uninterested in nuances like trials. The character, from the pen of British writer Jim Grant, is supposed to be 6’5″ tall and weigh about 250, so having the diminutive Cruise play him is a bit like having Danny DeVito play Fezzik in “The Princess Bride.”

The main annoyance was the typical persistent misrepresentation of legal ethics, especially the attorney-client privilege. Reacher is dark, free-lance, drifting Mr. Fix-it, and he is engaged by lawyer Helen Rodin as an investigator to prove her client, an ex-military sniper who is being prosecuted by her father, the DA, for apparently gunning down five random innocent victims in a shooting spree, is something more than a mad dog killer. In their initial conversation about the case, Cruise asks if what he is telling her is privileged. She assures him that it is, but the sequence is misleading, for Reacher and for the audience. What Reacher tells the lawyer is confidential but not privileged—privileged information is what the lawyer would learn from her client in order to provide advice and legal services. Confidences are what the lawyer learns about the case in the course of the representation, and a lawyer can be compelled to reveal confidences, as opposed to privileged information, at trial. In addition, what Reacher tells Helen (played by Rosamund Pike), is certainly not privileged as applied to Reacher himself, which is what I thought his question was. He’s not the lawyer’s client; in fact, she’s his client.

Much shooting, beating and many bodies and executions later, (Spoiler Alert!), Reacher-Cruise proves that indeed the sniper, who is currently in a coma, was framed for the murder in a diabolical scheme engineered by a one-percenter (naturally) that involved killing one of the five shooting victims; the other four were targeted just to make the intended murder look random. Unfortunately, he answers all questions while rescuing Helen, who has been captured by the bad guys to stop Reacher (and her too) from uncovering the conspiracy. Everyone involved in the plot are now dead, and they had also framed Reacher by this point. The only one who could possibly unravel it all for authorities and a jury (other than Reacher, who is about to drift away) is Helen herself, and she can’t, at least not while defending the sniper. A lawyer is prevented by the ethics rules from representing a client if she is a necessary witness in the case. Now, thanks to Jack, she is the necessary witness in the case. She has to withdraw, and  let someone else represent the sniper…who is just now waking up.

Never mind; the movies universe has always ignored ABA Model Rule 3.7, Lawyer As Witness. Helen’s next move, however, is a stunner: she proposes to get her father the DA (who has never lost a case–-riiiiight) to drop the charges against the sniper by 1) presumably telling Dad what she witnessed while being held as hostage and 2) proving that he couldn’t have been the shooter by confirming Jack Reacher’s theory that an experienced army sniper like her client would not have chosen the location where the actual shots were fired from. Snipee (his real name is Barr) wakes up with no memory of the shooting, and Helen sits by his hospital bed, explains that she is his lawyer, assures him that everything he tells her is privileged, and questions him about the murders. In particular, she shows him photographs of the area in which the shootings took place, and asks where he, as an ace sniper, would have chosen as the best locale for a blood orgy. Sure enough, he answers exactly as Jack said he would, proving that he wasn’t the shooter (well, sort of). This is a slam dunk for Helen, because she made sure that her father, the prosecutor, was listening to the whole supposedly privileged conversation!

A lawyer gets disbarred for stuff like this. She lied to her client: what he told her would not be privileged if a third party was present…especially when the third party was the opposition, the guy who wanted to have him executed. Helen had no way of knowing for certain how her client, groggy and confused, would answer—he easily might have signed his own death warrant with a confession. Of course, not knowing Rule 3.7 apparently runs in the family—D.A. Ronin is the last one he should have wanted listening in on his daughter’s unethical interview with her client, because this would make him a necessary witness if Barr incriminated himself. That’s not all: it is serious ethical misconduct for a lawyer to induce or assist another lawyer to violate the ethics rules, which is exactly what he’s doing with his daughter. Come to think of it, daughters and fathers aren’t even supposed to be opposing each other in cases at all, unless the clients all consent. Did Barr consent? Does he even know that his lawyer is the D.A.’s daughter, and might be pulling her punches unconsciously so daddy’s perfect conviction record wouldn’t be sullied? No, and no.

Dad drops the charges, and all is well however ( lawyers almost never get disbarred in the movie universe), as Jack Reacher, the only witness who could have helped Barr the Innocent Sniper if he had said the wrong thing while his lawyer allowed the D.A. listen in, is far away, on a bus, riding to the sequel.

Yup: bad choice for me to stop obsessing about ethics.

My wife thinks so too.

20 thoughts on ““Jack Reacher” Ethics, Or Why It’s No Fun Going To Movies With Me

    • I remember. But I didn’t expect Jack to be a paragon of virtue—I do keep expecting movie lawyers to stop misinforming the public. There are good reasons to be critical of lawyers, but let’s stick to the kinds of things they really do, not this nonsense.

      • There’s an old column from World Famous Comics, now archived online, called “The Law Is A Ass” that looked at comic books through the lens of what would actually be legal. Most of them are looking into things like vigilantism and criminal liability, but the author (whose name escapes me) took gleeful delight in eviscerating comics that introduced court scenes without a law consultant, shredding every bit of misinformation.

      • I suppose my profession (architecture) is accurately represented in Hollywood

        Note, the reference to being “intelligent, sensitive, handsome, passionate and an overall great catch”

        Highly true to life portrayals of architects can be found in movies such as Death Wish, Towering Inferno, 12 Angry Men, Inception, and The Fountainhead…among others.

      • I do keep expecting movie lawyers to stop misinforming the public.
        Your average American movie goer does not care about truth, authenticity and so forth.
        They care about explosions, stunts and special effects.

  1. I enjoyed it until Duval, a supposed former Marine, lines up a shot and closes one of his eyes to shoot. That would get you a poke in the ribs on the rifle range. Totally took me out of it. As to Cruise not being the right size the author has said that Cruise had the presence of the character but not the size and they most likely couldn’t have found an actor with his talent who had the size and presence. Its not Shakespeare, you don’t need a great actor. I would have cast Dwayne Johnson, The Rock, he has the size and presence and he is a good journeymen actor who easily could have carried this piece of fluff.

    • That’s funny, I was thinking of Johnson too….or Vin Diesel, which would be central casting. Fred Dwyer would have been good in his his younger days. Chuck Conners. Clint. The Duke would have never played anyone that vicious.

      Sure, Cruise has presence to burn, but there’s only so much suspension of disbelief I can handle.

      • I don’t know, The Dukes best role was Ethan Edwards so I could see him playing this character.

        Cruise’s problem , along with other modern actors like Nicholson and Deniro, is they have to act at playing tough. While the older actors, like Robert Mitchum and Lee Marvin didn’t have to “act” tough they were tough.

        The difference is blatantly obvious when comparing the two versions of Cape Fear.

      • This is kind of in your wheelhouse Jack, but I got a charge watching that movie and seeing all of the ways that the camera operator and the scene design were used so that Cruise wasn’t shown at his correct height relative to the other actors. I mostly couldn’t figure out how they got it done.

                • Don’t forget the very high heels that Veronica always wore. Mickey Rooney is 5’2″, and looks it. I think Ladd was about 5’4″, but you could be right. Hell, Lake might have been 4’8″!

                  • I knew that Alan Ladd would pop up in the remarks as soon as I read Jack’s somewhat snide references to Tom Cruise’s stature! Judging from the author’s description of Jack Reacher, they should have hired ME for the role. I’ve never acted a day in my life, either, but lack of talent never kept Tom Thumb off the marquis. After all, what did he need to do besides growl and shoot?

    • You get the poke if you close your eye while using iron sights or reflex sights. High powered optics pretty much require closing one eye or you wind up with unintentional parralax problems. Not to worry though, there was plenty of other gun stuff that they got wrong.

      • After teaching marksmanship basics, once a shooter proved his ability to hit his targets consistently, we didn’t care what form he took to hit targets.

        What’s better:

        a dead enemy killed by a soldier firing non-doctrinally


        a dead soldier, who at least died sticking religiously to the fundamentals?

  2. For me the ethics breach is in casting Tom Cruise. Jack Reacher would never play air guitar in his underpants. Tom Cruise is a lightweight. Jack Reacher is a heavyweight. I didn’t see the movie and I never will. I don’t particularly like any one part of the Jack Reacher novels or their author, but I love all of them. Must be my not so hidden revenge fantasies.

  3. This is possibly, maybe probably, a dumb question.

    If a lawyer hires an investigator for a case, is his report “work product”?

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