Based on the Lee Child bestseller that has his hero accuses of a homicide, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is the long-awaited second movie in the series. Crime Scene meet director Edward Zwick to talk Tom Cruise, literary thrillers and filming his first-ever
Edward Zwick on the sequel starring Tom Cruise.
As Edward Zwick arrives at the plush screening room at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel, a hush descends. Dressed in a black shirt and jeans, the bearded director of Glory and Blood Diamond is here to present footage from the first sequel of his career, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Except “sequel” doesn’t quite fit – the idea being that this franchise, based on Lee Child’s series of novels and starring Tom Cruise in the title role, is “a little bit more of an anthology”.
The first clip – which can also be glimpsed in the trailer – sees a small-town sheriff enter a diner where Reacher is sitting alone, having taken out a posse of guys. “Two things are going to happen in the next 90 seconds,” Reacher says, when he’s arrested and cuffed. “First that phone over there is going to ring. Second, you’re going to be wearing these cuffs on the way to prison.” It’s a neat re-introduction to this ex-major in the US Army Military Police Corps turned troubleshooting drifter.
Echoing Child’s standalone approach to his novels, Zwick warns you shouldn’t expect a direct follow-on from Christopher Mcquarrie’s 2012 film Jack Reacher. The “anthology” idea is a liberating one, he explains, when we reconvene upstairs. “That provides an opportunity, I think, because the settings are different, the situations are different, the characters are different… A lot of superhero sequel
movies, they resemble each other greatly. I think it might be nice if this resembles the previous one a little bit less.”
In many ways, the ambitions for Jack Reacher: Never Go Back recall what Cruise has so artfully managed across the Mission: Impossible franchise, bringing in a different director – including Mcquarrie – for each of the five episodes to date. “The thing about Tom, if you look back at all the directors he has chosen, he tends to want to have a director bring their own spin, or their own vision, to these things that he does,” says Zwick, who previously collaborated with the actor on the 2003 drama The Last Samurai.
While that film was a project Zwick initiated, this time it was Cruise who called the director out of the blue with a “vision… that he invited me into”. It had been a dozen years since they had worked together. “He said, ‘Would you be interested?’ My first instinct was, ‘I don’t know. I’ve never done anything like that – a sequel.’ He said, ‘Read the book.’ And I read the book – and the movie is not the book. The movie partakes of the book, and takes some very good parts of the book, but also becomes itself.”
Scripted initially by Richard Wenk, whose credits include action staples The Expendables 2, The Mechanic and The Equalizer, the film adapts Never Go Back, the 18th Reacher novel in Child’s series, which was published to much acclaim back in 2013. (The 21st, Night School, is due in November.) “This was one of his best-reviewed books,” says Zwick, who was immediately hooked when he took Cruise’s advice and got reading.
The director dubs Reacher “a very archetypal American character”. The story sees Reacher head back from South Dakota to his old military base in Virginia to wine and dine his replacement, Major Susan Turner (played by Cobie Smulders), now his commanding officer. But when he arrives, she has been arrested and Reacher is accused of a 16-year-old homicide. And then there’s the possibility that he may – or may not – have fathered a daughter (played by Heroes Reborn star Danika Yarosh). Some may be surprised that Paramount Studios are bankrolling the project. The first Jack Reacher film – based on One Shot, the ninth book in the series – cost around $57 million to make and grossed $218 million. Like the reviews, the figures were good but not mind-blowing; and these days a blockbuster needs to smash it before a studio will consider a sequel. If the original film was rather overlooked, producing a follow-up might be considered a pretty bold move in today’s risk-averse Hollywood. Never go back? Not this time… For the 63-yearold Zwick, it was the chance to realise an unrealised cinematic dream. If much of his film work has a masculine feel, he’s never yet worked on a crime movie – which seems strange, given his
It harkens back to some of his best work. [Cruise] wants to act as well as entertain
taste in books. “I’ve read the literature of the genre for many years, starting with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, all the way up to George Pelecanos and some of the great Danish and Swedish authors,” he reveals. “So it was fun to work in the genre.”
Zwick took a strictly analytical approach. “Long before this movie or this book series, there are certain things that are obligatory to a genre – certain kinds of tropes that have to do with who the antagonist is and what the jeopardy is and what the threats are. I look upon that the same way I would look upon trying to write a sonnet that had a certain rhyme scheme and metre and scansion. Believe me, I’m not saying this movie is poetry! But you know what I mean, don’t you?”
What he means is adhering to the form of the crime yarn, then seeking out originality from within. With the film not yet finished at the time of going to press, it’s difficult to assess just how Jack Reacher: Never Go Back breaks the rules. Early footage sees Reacher punching out a bad guy (and a car window). “Who the hell are you?” he’s asked. “The guy you didn’t count on,” he replies. So is this just Cruise playing the indestructible hero again? “That’s not entirely how it happens,” says Zwick, cagily. So he’s fallible? “A little bit.”
The way Zwick sees it, this is not the Cruise that we’ve become used to seeing in films like Knight And Day or Oblivion. “This is a very internal performance by him,” says Zwick. “I think it harkens back to some of his best work in a way – and you’ll see that. I do admire him going with the flow of what studio movies have become, but I think he has real nostalgia and yearning for some of the performances and movies he was able to make in his career.” Citing everything from Magnolia to Born On The Fourth Of July, Zwick adds: “He wants to act as well as entertain.”
While there is nothing here akin to Cruise’s daredevil antics on the Mission films, Zwick caught the actor at full blast. “He’s definitely intense! But I’m intense. Most people in this business are intense. I’ve made three movies with Denzel Washington and he’s intense; Leonardo Dicaprio is intense. That’s what you sign up for; you engage with someone. There’s a struggle but it’s a creative struggle. And it’s a struggle of ambition and vision.”
When Cruise was first cast, Reacher fans lamented that the physically imposing 6ft 5in character created by Child was being played by the 5ft 7in star. “Which actor does match Reacher physically?” quipped Child, who seemed at ease with the casting – and, according to Zwick, was delighted with the 2012 movie. “He’s a very generous, good guy,” reports the director, who had a similarly good experience with the author on Never Go Back. The book can be considered part of a loose quartet – following 61 Hours, Worth Dying For and A Wanted Man – but there was never any consideration that these had to be adapted first.
“The sophisticated authors of books understand that movies aren’t books,” says Zwick. “He was very interested in watching the process by which this became a movie. He read the script, several drafts, and came when we did a table-read, and actually heard it.” Otherwise, he kept his distance. “He’s busy writing,” Zwick shrugs. “He just wants to sit in his room and write another one. He starts and then he finishes, and then it sells a billion copies and then he does it again.”
One question leaps to mind. While Jack Reacher benefited from a fantastic villain played by a menacing Werner Herzog, it’s going to be rather difficult to top the German film director. “We do something different,” hints Zwick. “Although there is a good villain in it. Patrick Heusinger plays a very interesting part. He’s sort of a… not quite a doppelganger of Tom. He’s younger but is a reflection of him, a mirror of a kind.” With Heusinger playing a character named only The Hunter, maybe Jack Reacher will have finally met his match.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back opens on 21 October.
Zwick directing The Last Samurai.
Child was “delighted” with the first movie, Zwick says.
Tomcruise captured the intensity of the title character, if not his imposing stature, in Jack Reacher.
Leechild makes a cameo appearance in the first film.