The US premiere of Jack Reacher, an explosive action thriller based on the book One Shot by Lee Child, was postponed in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The decision was understandable.

Christopher McQuarrie’s film opens with heart-stopping scenes of a sniper taking aim at innocent bystanders on a riverbank, including a nanny cradling a terrified young child in her arms.

Viewed through the gun man’s high-powered rifle scope to the steady beat of his breathing, the massacre sends shivers down the spine as shots ring out and figures tumble like rag dolls to the ground.

McQuarrie accomplishes this haunting set piece with brio and restraint, replaying the slaughter from myriad perspectives later in the film as police uncover the clues to the shooter’s identity.

Nothing else in Jack Reacher comes close to this bravura sequence and the initial rush of adrenaline eases to a steady pulse.

Former military officer Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is a ghost in the system, even to the US government with all of the top-secret technology and resources at its disposal.

He is lured out of hiding when a mentally unstable sniper, James Barr (Joseph Sikora), is arrested for the murder of five innocent people outside PNC Park in Pennsylvania.

Before Barr slips into a coma, he writes down three words – Get Jack Reacher.

On cue, Jack makes contact with lead detective Emerson (David Oyelowo) and District Attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins), convinced the cops have caught their perpetrator.

“I didn’t come here to help (Barr). I came here to bury him,” growls Jack.

However, Rodin’s daughter, defence attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), isn’t convinced of Barr’s guilt and she hires Jack to check the forensics.

A chain of evidence leads Jack to criminal mastermind The Zec (Werner Herzog) and his henchman (Jai Courtney), whose business interests may play part in the unfolding mystery.

Jack Reacher is the first chapter of a potential new franchise for Cruise, based on the ninth book in Child’s ongoing series.

It’s a solid genre piece, punctuated by smartly orchestrated action sequences, including a night-time chase through city streets and a couple of bruising fist fights.

Cruise isn’t stretched in the lead role, which asks him to play rough and tough, telling one bad guy: “I mean to beat you to death and drink your blood from a boot!”

Pike is an appealing love interest but Herzog is woefully miscast as an ex-con. Thankfully, Robert Duvall’s appearance as the owner of a shooting range in the second half prevents the film from capsizing.

Running time: 130 mins
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, Richard Jenkins, Robert Duvall, Jai Courtney, Werner Herzog, Joseph Sikora, Alexia Fast.
Director: Christopher McQuarrie.