This is one of Cruise’s most instantly likable characters.

The last time audiences saw Tom Cruise in a big action thriller, he was scaling the tallest man-made structure in the world in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”. His new movie, “Jack Reacher”, isn’t quite as spectacular, but it’s a smart and satisfying entertainment that plays to the actor’s strengths and also to the strengths of director Christopher McQuarrie, the Oscar-winning writer of “The Usual Suspects”.

The world premiere of “Jack Reacher” was cancelled in December shortly after the Sandy Hook school massacre. The opening scene, which depicts a sniper shooting, was especially disturbing for me because I saw the movie just days after the real-life tragedy in Connecticut. But, whereas other movies and video games are often justifiably criticized for glorifying gun violence, “Jack Reacher” does the opposite, taking care to humanize the victims and showing the painful consequences of the shooter’s actions. This is never more true than when the shooting suspect’s attorney, Helen Rodin (played by Rosamund Pike), goes to visit the victims’ families. In a powerful sequence, we see these were ordinary people with hopes and dreams that were cut tragically short the day they were gunned down.

The shooting suspect, an Iraq War vet named James Barr (Joseph Sikora), refuses to cooperate with the authorities. He has one request: “Get me Jack Reacher.” We soon learn that Reacher is an ex-military cop who in recent years has become a drifter. “You don’t find this guy unless he wants to be found,” the district attorney says, right before Reacher walks into his office.

For me, this is one of Cruise’s most instantly likable characters. The movie has been criticized because the actor is a lot shorter than the character described in Lee Child’s series of novels. (It’s based on Child’s 2005 Reacher novel, “One Shot”.) But the character has been a big hit with movie audiences. Cruise is great at playing tough guys (see his performance as the ice-cold hit man Vincent in “Collateral”), and he’s often surprisingly adept at comedy, as evidenced by some of his recent supporting turns in films like “Tropic Thunder” and “Rock of Ages”. He gets to be both tough and funny in “Jack Reacher” and, size difference or no, he’s still a formidable action hero. Also in the plus column: Cruise famously does almost all of his own stunt work, which means the filmmakers are able to avoid distracting shots of stunt drivers during a police chase through downtown Pittsburgh.

It doesn't hurt that Cruise has been given such crackling dialogue to deliver. McQuarrie, who once worked for a detective agency, has shown since the start of his career he really knows how to depict the way tough guys relate to each other. (Think of the early scene in “The Usual Suspects” where the five criminals are all locked up together.) His movies are often quite funny because they’re about guys who look like they eat nails for breakfast, and none of them wants to back down from a fight. Reacher certainly isn’t into backing down, as one of the bad guys learns when he threatens to kill Helen, and Reacher responds by explaining his plan to drink the man’s blood from a boot.

Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog (an unusual choice for a villain that yields some spooky results) and an 80-year-old Robert Duvall round out a fine cast, though I would have liked to have seen more of Herzog and Duvall. Cruise and McQuarrie will have a chance to top “Ghost Protocol” when they reteam for “Mission: Impossible 5”. Judging by the terrific “Jack Reacher”, you can count me in.

“Jack Reacher” is playing this weekend at the Augusta Historic Theatre, 523 State Street. Showtime is 7:30pm on Saturday and 2pm on Sunday. Tickets are $6.

Stephen is an AHS graduate who studied film and journalism in college. He highly recommends Christopher McQuarrie’s directorial debut, “The Way of the Gun”. He lives in Wichita.