Christopher McGuire has paid his dues, in the business since 1993.  He has written some outstanding scripts (“The Usual Suspects,”  Valkyrie,” “The Tourist”) but most moviegoers have never heard of him.  Perhaps his latest writing and directorial effort, “Jack Reacher” will gain him the recognition he deserves.

Based on Lee Child’s novel “One Shot,” and paying homage to Agatha Christie’s “The ABC Murders,” “Jack Reacher” opens with a bang.  A man with a sniper rifle ensconces himself in a parking garage in downtown Pittsburgh and proceeds to calmly shoot five random passersby.  He hops in a van and makes good his escape.  The police arrive, and in a thorough examination of the crime scene discover evidence pointing to an ex-army sniper named James Barr.  He is promptly arrested and says only to get “Jack Reacher,” a former Army MP, before slipping into a coma.  Barr’s attorney employs Reacher to investigate and it seems the murders were not as random as first believed, and Barr was set up to take the fall.

The screenplay is a revelation, every bit as mind bending as “The Usual Suspects,” with twists and turns along the way; nothing is as it first seems.  Reacher is Sherlock Holmes, not only observing details that others overlook, but deducing the importance of those matters.  A car chase scene is the most exciting in decades, with a wonderfully humorous denouement.  The meth underbelly of Pittsburgh is revealed as lush cinematography revels in the city’s progressive vivacity.  The pace of the film never slackens, keeping the audience on the edge of its collective seat; much is unexplained, but because the tempo of the movie never lets up, the audience doesn’t have time to think of its objections.  The characters are a cacophony of believable and interesting people brought to life by a marvelous cast; just enough is told about each character to give the viewer insight into his or her personality without bludgeoning the audience into boredom with a blow-by-blow biography.

Tom Cruise (“Knight and Day”) plays Jack Reacher as a cocky maverick, dazzlingly effective at his job.  Yes, this is the persona Tom Cruise has made his name on, but it is also what he does best.  And while Mr. Cruise certainly carries “Jack Reacher,” his performance is not enough to make this a thoroughly enjoyable movie.  It is the rest of the cast that elevates “Jack Reacher” above the ordinary crime thriller drivel (such as “Taken 2”) we typically see.

Rosamund Pike (“Pride and Prejudice”) portrays Barr’s attorney Helen as an idealistic crusader with daddy issues; Richard Jenkins (“Friends with Benefits”) is Helen’s father and also the DA prosecuting the case, a law-and-order guy who isn’t averse to breaking the law to get his man. David Oyelowo (“The Help”) is the coolly efficient detective who wants Barr put away for life.  Werner Herzog (“Nosferatu the Vampyre”) and Jai Courtney (TV’s “Spartacus”) are the mysterious hit men who get a little carried away with their job.  Alexia Fast (“Triple Dog”) plays the witness, a dumb girl who knows too much and doesn’t realize it; for a minor character, she dominates each scene she’s in.  Robert Duvall (“Seven Days in Utopia”) is perfect as the crusty old gun range owner looking for a little excitement and eager to help a fellow shooter.

“Jack Reacher” is one of the best written, best directed, best acted crime stories in years.  But with the barrage of year-end movies, it may not be the long-staying money-maker it ought to be.  So make time in your busy holiday schedule to see this terrific film.