Bringing Jack Reacher to life on the big screen

By Michele Manelis

Michele Manelis talks to Jack Reacher's director Christopher McQuarrie and author Lee Child about bringing the character to life on the big screen.

Director Christopher McQuarrie says he hopes the audience of Jack Reacher, played by Tom Cruise, will enjoy the story but not savour the violence. Photo / Supplied
Director Christopher McQuarrie says he hopes the audience of Jack Reacher, played by Tom Cruise, will enjoy the story but not savour the violence. Photo / Supplied

When Tom Cruise was blindsided by Katie Holmes' divorce petition at the end of June, he was filming Jack Reacher.

Shots from the set abounded at the time, mostly of Cruise apparently proceeding with business as usual. Six months later, it's not just business as usual for a now-divorced Cruise but a business expansion, with Jack Reacher becoming Cruise's next franchise.

This unarmed and mysterious man-of-action, whose brawn meets brains, is the protagonist of author Lee Child's 17 crime novels.

Based on the 2005 book One Shot, this first film sees Reacher, a former major in the US Army's military police, hired to investigate a sharp-shooter who has gunned down five victims, seemingly at random.

The likely murderer is lying in hospital in a coma.

Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who has worked with Cruise extensively since writing and producing Valkyrie in 2008 (he also wrote the Top Gun 2 script before Tony Scott's death curtailed that project), the film also stars Australian newcomer, Jai Courtney as Reacher's adversary and former Bond girl Rosamund Pike, as well as veterans Robert Duvall, Richard Jenkins and German director and occasional actor, Werner Herzog as an unforgettable uber-villain.

In the US, the film's Pittsburgh (where it was filmed) and New York premieres were cancelled due to the massacre in Connecticut. While the film's opening scenes feature a sniper attack, the cancellations weren't due to the film's violent content, but rather the feeling no one was in the mood for red carpet celebrations.

Violence in cinema is nothing new but some are certainly of the view that it encourages bloodshed in real life. Says McQuarrie, "Movies are a reflection of life, and violence is a real part of life. You can't make them exclusively without depicting violence. At the same time there is a responsible way in which one can present it. To me, it's important that it has a consequence and it delivers a disturbing reaction.

"I was getting that response before the events in Connecticut - and that's exactly what I wanted. I want people to enjoy the story but not to enjoy or savour the violence."

Not all fans of the novels enjoyed the news of Cruise's casting. Jack Reacher is described as 1.96m tall and 114kg. One of the characters in the book likens his body to "a condom stuffed full with walnuts". Clearly, Cruise does not fit the description on the page but author Child defends his casting.

"I was grateful that the fans cared and were so defensive about a character I created and I was happy to feel that loyalty from the book readers. But Reacher isn't just about size, he's a force of nature. It's more about the menace and the brutality." He pauses and smiles. "And no one in Hollywood is tall. Even people you think are big, are not big. There's not a single actor that resembles Jack Reacher significantly."

Some of Cruise's macho banter as Reacher, prior to his systematically beating up the bad guys (in some cases outnumbered five to one), verges on the hilarious. But at age 50, he can still pass for incredibly youthful.

Famous for executing his own stunts, Cruise skilfully manoeuvres a number of cars through the streets of Pittsburgh. For the female demographic, there's a lingering shot of Cruise standing bare-chested (in case you missed him topless in Rock of Ages), in a shot that looks to be a prelude to a love scene. And although Reacher was written as a womaniser, McQuarrie decided to go another way, despite casting the glamorous Pike as his partner-in-crime.

Says McQuarrie: "That's of no interest to me. If a love story is organic then by all means it's necessary. It wasn't important that he be in love with her or have a physical relationship.

"It was important that they view each other as equals. More importantly, Reacher knows he's leaving town, and any kind of relationship would be shallow."

Sounding a little defensive, he adds, "You know, I admire anybody who can write a James Bond movie and create an intense love story between two characters that's delivered over seven lines of dialogue and then have it be okay that he never sees her again. I don't know how to do that.

"For me it just feels empty. I'm fixated on consequence and meaning."

Perhaps this isn't a subject he's visiting for the first time? He might answer with a laugh, but McQuarrie clearly isn't joking.

"Yes, to be honest, it's been a difficulty in my career. I cannot be cavalier about certain elements knowing full well they're not important to the audience or film viewing experience," he says. "Meaning is what's really important to me."

What: Jack Reacher, starring Tom Cruise and directed by Christopher McQuarrie
When and where: Opens at cinemas on January 3

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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