FIRST LOOK: Tom Cruise makes a stand in crime thriller 'Jack Reacher' -- EXCLUSIVE

A wise man once sang, “When  you got nothing, you got nothing to lose,” and that about sums up Tom Cruise’s title character in the upcoming crime saga Jack Reacher.

Adapted from Lee Child’s best-selling novel One Shot, Cruise stars as an ex–military policeman turned vigilante drifter, who finds himself drawn into the case of a sniper who randomly targeted civilians.

While we’re used to seeing Cruise as men who are ambitious, highly-stressed, and inveterate charmers, this film (out Dec. 21) provides him a somewhat darker and more stoic soul to inhabit.

“Someone asks him at one point in the story about the difference between a military policeman and a regular cop,” says screenwriter and director Christopher McQuarrie, who previously wrote and directed The Way of the Gun and won an Oscar for the screenplay to The Usual Suspects. “Reacher points out that [for military police], every suspect is a trained killer.”

Other than those ties to a haunted past, investigating soldiers who went lethally astray, Reacher has very little in the present.

Karen Ballard

“He is free from any sort of anxiety. He is truly not encumbered by all the bulls–t that makes up our daily lives,” McQuarrie tells EW. “He literally and figuratively has no baggage.”

The character’s one temporary possession is featured in this first look photo: that (formerly) mint 1970 Chevelle SS, which Reacher has just battered in an attempt to escape from police who wrongfully suspect him of a murder. Filmed and set in Pittsburgh, a city cross-cut by rivers and tangled streets, it’s a punishing locale for a high-speed game of hide-and-seek.

In this shot (click the photo to enlarge), Reacher has momentarily escaped view and steps out of the slowly rolling Chevelle to make a quiet, chameleon-like escape while the vehicle drifts away, gathering speed toward that bus in the distance and the Sixth Street Bridge beyond it. It’s a risky calculation, but Reacher  thinks he knows where the cops will keep their attention.

“He is an extremely pragmatic, matter-of-fact person,” McQuarrie says. “He’s very solitary, but he can’t walk away from a situation that needs to be made right. His own sense of right and wrong tie into that situation and he can’t leave until it’s been resolved. That’s his Achilles heel.”

Given this guy’s ruthless combat skills, you still wouldn’t want to be on the business end of that heel in a street fight.

The film is not without its controversies. Cruise doesn’t physically match the hulking Reacher described in Child’s books, which has irked some fans, but the actor addressed the issue head-on when footage of the film previewed at CinemaCon in April. It helped to have the author’s blessing.

“For those of you who know the books, I’m obviously not 6-foot-5, like Jack Reacher,” the 5-foot-7 actor said in a videotaped intro. “But Lee felt that I was the right guy to drive fast cars and kick the s–t out of people onscreen.”

Cruise may not match the literary Reacher’s weight-class, but he definitely has the attitude down.

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