JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK
Tom Cruise returns as Lee Child’s hero in a piece that doesn’t mention the height thing once.
TOM CRUISE HAS A RULE: UNLESS
it’s Mission: Impossible, he doesn’t do sequels. Throughout his 35-year career, without fail he has left every iconic role behind except super-spy Ethan Hunt. There is no Jerry Maguire 2. No Born
On The Fifth Of July. No Rain Men. That changes next month with Jack Reacher:
Never Go Back, in which Cruise once more fills the shoes of Lee Child’s nomadic hero, last seen in 2012’s no-frills thriller Jack Reacher. So how did this character, an ex-military policeman who wanders across America, righting wrongs with his fists and smarts, succeed where the likes of Cole Trickle, John Anderton or even Les Grossman failed, by burrowing into Cruise’s subconscious and demanding to be taken for a second spin?
“He’s such a fascinating character to me,” says Cruise, talking to Empire from Paris after a long day filming his new movie, The Mummy (Cruise appraisal: “It’s fun and scary as hell”). “Reacher’s not someone who has a Blackberry or an iphone, or any electronic device. He’s not on the internet. He has a unique perspective on humanity and on society. In some ways he’s a wish fulfilment for people.”
Maybe for Cruise, too. After all, this is a man who probably hasn’t gone a day in years without being harassed for a selfie. Reacher’s anonymous lifestyle must seem like an exotic dream. Yet playing Reacher also allows the 54-year-old to go places he usually can’t. Reacher is the archetypal guy with nothing to lose, who doesn’t think twice about threatening to drink a bad guy’s “blood from a boot” (as he did in the last movie) or shooting a pensioner in the head (ditto). “Reacher is brutal,” laughs Cruise. “He’s that guy whose eyeline you don’t want to be in. If you did something wrong and he’s got his eye on you, you’re gonna lose.”
ON ONE LEVEL, THE ARRIVAL OF
a new Jack Reacher movie shouldn’t surprise. After all, Lee Child does do sequels. Nineteen of them so far, in fact, at a steady pace since 1997’s
Killing Floor, in which Reacher is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit, and ends up shooting a whole lot of people for crimes they did. So there’s no shortage of material for future movies.
Yet on another level, a second Reacher movie is something of a surprise. Jack Reacher grossed $218 million globally. A more than respectable amount, particularly for a movie budgeted at just $50 million, and Paramount was happy enough to give director Christopher Mcquarrie the nod to work with Cruise again in Mission: Impossible
— Rogue Nation. It wasn’t, though, the sort of take that usually triggers a follow-up. When he and Mcquarrie moved onto Rogue Nation, it appeared their shot at fostering a new franchise had died. Then, as happened with Austin Powers and The Terminator, to name but two, home viewers changed the film’s fortunes and therefore the future. “It was unbelievably successful in all its release platforms after theatrical,” says producer Don Granger, the persuader who saw the potential of Child’s creation back in 2001 then spent the best part of a decade trying to make it happen. With that home-entertainment boost, Paramount announced in December 2013 that the next movie in the series would be based on the
18th novel, Never Go Back, which Child had just published. Never Go Back was selected after a long discussion between Cruise, Granger and Mcquarrie, who was then potentially returning as director. “I brought over a box of the books and we lined them up,” says Granger. “We took One Shot [the book that became Jack Reacher], put it back in the box and then literally talked about the merits of every book.” After hours of leafing through paperbacks, the trio made their choice. The book that screamed, “Make me!” was Never Go Back. “It had the best of everything,” says Granger. “At the time it was the bestselling Reacher book, the best reviewed of them all, and it had a surprising emotional connection to the story.” English poet John Donne once wrote, “No man is an island.” He might have revised that opinion had he lived another 400 years and read a Reacher book. Child’s creation had spent 17 books as an implacable, unknowable, walking island, isolated from the rest of humanity — here today, gone tomorrow. Each book is a separate adventure, with supporting characters very seldom popping up in more than one story.
Never Go Back tied Reacher more firmly to not one but two women. First, there’s Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), a major who has taken charge of Reacher’s old command in the 110th MP. And this time it’s personal, as Reacher is told he finally has something worth dying for: a 15year-old daughter he never knew he had, Samantha Dayton (Danika Yarosh). “We thought because of the relationship with Susan and Samantha, it would be a nice follow-up to the last one,” says Cruise. “He’s intrigued by this woman who has his old job. And how would Reacher deal with a 15-year-old girl? It’s the characters around him who bring out different aspects of his personality.”
The two strands intertwine when Reacher heads to West Virginia to meet Turner after a phone flirtation. The visitor finds that Turner has been arrested, while he is drafted back into the army on a trumped-up charge. Not one to take it lying down, Reacher breaks Turner out
of jail and heads across country, a wanted man, in an attempt to unravel a deadly conspiracy. Along the way, the tenacious, wily, tough-as-nails Samantha joins the affair. “There are different dynamics here,” says Smulders. “It’s not just Reacher getting shit done by himself. He is partnered with a woman who is just as intelligent, just as capable, and he has to reconfigure his brain around that. Also, we’re coupled with this young teenager, and the three of us are this weird family.”
With Rogue Nation taking up most of Cruise’s 2015, filming didn’t start on Never Go Back until October of that year, almost two years after it was first announced. Within that time, it became clear that Mcquarrie wouldn’t be able to direct both films on account of not being superhuman. Something had to give, and that was Reacher. Mcquarrie would stay on as producer, but a new director was needed. Cruise promptly flipped open his trusty Rolodex and went right to Z.
“Tom called and said, ‘What are you doing?’” recalls Edward Zwick, who last directed Cruise in 2003’s The Last Samurai. “I said, ‘I’m trying to get movies going. And, as you know, these days to get interesting movies done with studios is much more of a challenge than it ever was.’ He said, ‘Well, read this book.’” Zwick’s filmography is a varied, many-garlanded thing, comprising serious, square-jawed epics such as Glory and Legends Of The Fall as well as adult romances such as About Last Night... and Love & Other Drugs. What his CV lacks, by his own admission, is a piece of pulp. “I have avoided movies like this,” he admits. “But I could sit here and talk to you all day about Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and George Pelecanos and Michael Connelly. I love this stuff. So why haven’t I done any? What inhibition of seriousness might be holding me back? Do I always need to have a big subject?”
Zwick is too refined to come out and say it, but he also needs, after a run of under-performing films including Defiance and Pawn Sacrifice, a solid hit. A Jack Reacher film starring Tom Cruise should be just that. But it’s not quite that simple. ACTION-THRILLERS RULED THE roost in the 1990s. Back then, it seemed every week brought a new John Grisham movie, or something where Tommy Lee Jones chased Ashley Judd or vice versa. But by 2012, the market for mid-budget thrillers like Jack Reacher and The Lincoln Lawyer (based on the Michael Connelly novel) was shrinking fast. Four years on, there’s a chance it may not exist at all, something Zwick has learned the hard way. “I couldn’t do
Courage Under Fire now. I couldn’t do Blood Diamond,” he says. “That just isn’t going to happen. Do people still go to the movies for this kind of story? They’re finding that they don’t go to them for romantic comedies. They’re not seeing social-issue studio movies. Will they be interested in seeing this type of character-driven action film?”
Nowadays, it seems if you’re not a giant $250 million blockbuster that’s either based on a comic book, a Star War or has the prospect of Tom Cruise clinging to the side of a plane, it’s harder than ever to get bums on seats. “You’re not going to try to compete with a film like that,” says Cruise of the enemy. “I’m not even trying to compete with Mission. But with a film like this, it doesn’t have to make as much money to make its money back and have everyone do well, so I can go out and do it again. That’s been my rule for my career.” All that seems like an echo burning from the past, but Granger refutes the idea that appetite has shrunk for movies like his. “It’s harder to get movies made like this because perception becomes reality,” he says. “The entertainment press keeps writing that mid-level movies are disappearing, and I think that makes people fall into the trap of believing it.” Oops. Our bad. But it’s undeniable the rise of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon in the last few years — companies prepared to lavish hundreds of millions on top-tier talent — has also shifted the paradigm. In a way, episodic television, unhurried and with no need for reliance on Cgi-heavy spectacle, feels like the natural home for characters like Reacher. “The Harry Bosch character now exists on Amazon,” says Zwick of Michael Connelly’s Bosch. “That could be where Jack Reacher gets consigned if this doesn’t work.” In a way, Never Go Back is the flagbearer for a breed of movie in danger of extinction. The message seems clear: succeed or die trying. If there’s a sense from Team Reacher that a lot is riding on how it’s received, they’re not showing it. Indeed, Cruise is already preparing for the next Reacher. “Once you do two of them, you can assess what the audience is gravitating towards with the movies,” he says. “It’s a really fun thing to try to figure out. It took me a little bit to figure out the groove for Mission. If you look at 1, 2 and 3 of Mission, it’s me experimenting in different ways. I looked at the first Reacher as a platform. Now this one is to see the potential of it and for the third one, we’ll evaluate from there.”
That evaluation may have to continue without Zwick, who reckons the Reacher series should be an anthology, with a new director taking the reins every time, and the only constant being Cruise. “When Humphrey Bogart was in
The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, it was essentially the same character going into another story, so there’s a tradition of that,” Zwick says.
If there is a third Reacher film, it’s a fair bet the source novel has already been identified. “I know what book I want to do,” says Granger. “There are 21 choices and only two are off the table. There’s one that’s particularly delicious.”
The tripwire for that film will presumably be a box office gross equivalent to or better than that of the original film, so understandably Cruise won’t be drawn on what the chosen book might be just yet. “I’d like to take it to the badlands,” he says. “I think that would be an amazing-looking movie — very stark, and a different kind of Reacher. There’s so many different places we can go with him, geographically.”
Then Cruise, the consummate producer, takes the opportunity to conduct some impromptu market research. “You tell me which one should be next,” he tells Empire. “I’m serious.” We throw a couple of names at him — 61 Hours, the one set in a blizzard-besieged town that ends on an ‘Is Reacher dead?’ cliffhanger (spoiler: he is not), or
Bad Luck And Trouble, where Reacher teams up with old army pals, aka the Special Investigators, to do some special investigating. Cruise laughs. “Bad Luck And Trouble is good. That is something we’re thinking of. That’s one of them.” We’ll expect a finder’s fee if either of those come to pass. And they just might — now that Tom Cruise has broken his rule, anything’s possible. JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK is in cinemas from 21 october
Left: Jason Douglas’ sheriff with a roughed-up Reacher (Tom Cruise). Below: Cruise, Cobie Smulders and Ed Zwick. Bottom: Man on a mission.
Reacher, back in command. right: With Susan Turner (Smulders) and daughter Samantha (Danika Yarosh). below left: Part-time conductor?