I’m usually not all that interested in a film’s box-office haul because it has no bearing on the quality of the movie, but I make exceptions when it’s a film in need of a sequel. Jack Reacher deserves a sequel. American audiences weren’t much help here as they failed to turn out in big numbers for what is essentially a mid-budget action throwback. Thankfully though the addition of overseas earnings was enough to nudge Paramount in the right direction.
The film is only the second with Christopher McQuarrie in the director’s chair (with his first coming twelve years prior), and it stars Tom Cruise in the title role as a drifter seemingly unable to avoid trouble. It’s a damn fine movie and hopefully not the last adaptation we see of Lee Child’s bestselling novels.
Keep reading to see what I learned from the commentary track for Jack Reacher.
Jack Reacher (2012)
Commentators: Christopher McQuarrie (writer/director), Tom Cruise (uber star)
1. The composer Joe Kraemer wrote the opening theme in the time it took McQuarrie to walk his dog. This is not a euphemism.
2. McQuarrie had the camera operators attend the same shooting range course as the actors to ensure the rifle POV shots felt equally accurate.
3. The biggest challenge for McQuarrie is summed up by the diner chat between Reacher and Helen (Rosamund Pike) where the director was forced to create moments, tension and chemistry between two characters.
4. The barefoot extra on the bus was “totally self conscious” about showing her feet, but McQuarrie “thought it was a nice touch.”
5. They could only control one lane of traffic on the bridge and had to drop Cruise so they could loop around to drive by filming. Cruise had to wait there alone for ten minutes. He was not scared.
6. They agonized over the casting of Sandy more than any other role in the movie before settling on 19 year old Alexia Fast. Mmhmm.
7. They spent time discussing the story, tone and speed of each fight beforehand and intended to shoot them all in as wide a master as possible to avoid the need for cuts and editing.
8. They shot long days with Cruise as he had to be off for another film by a certain date, but while he was working overtime the rest of the crew would swap off with second units. Seriously, the guy gives his all to his films.
9. The motel room features wallpaper with a blood-spatter design and curtains with scope reticules. Production designer Jim Bissell intentionally created that motif throughout the film.
10. The Zec’s (Werner Herzog) bad eye is a “classic movie trope” that for McQuarrie is best represented by “the General from Watership Down.”
11. They were going to digitally paint in blood during the shootings, but McQuarrie felt the performances were strong enough that the blood wasn’t necessary. Every director should be so lucky.
12. The scene where Reacher confronts Sandy at Default Auto had to be re-shot after the film turned up damaged. Unrelated, but McQuarrie hopes everyone got the “Default Auto” punchline when Cruise walks into the shop.
13. The bathroom attack featured Cruise’s most dangerous scene as he backs up to a doorway and a bad guy hits the door frame with a bat. Additionally it was his idea to turn the fight scene into a humorous one. “They’re not fighting me,” Cruise says, “they’re fighting the room.”
14. Cruise and McQuarrie watched two specific films before production began. They were Stagecoach and Notorious, and they informed the director’s use of close-up shot with a 100mm lens.
15. McQuarrie says he shot a thousand feet of film for the movie. (Note: It’s been pointed out to me that 1000 feet of film only equals 11–12 minutes, so either McQuarrie misspoke or I misheard. The latter is far more likely.)
16. The big car scene features only a single process trailer (camera trailer rig) for the shot where the bad guys pull out behind Reacher as he drives by. “Because I had to do the pan,” explains McQuarrie, “and Tom looked at me and said ‘What is that doing here?’ I said I need it for the shot, and he said ‘This is humiliating, it’s like training wheels, I don’t want to see that thing again!’” The remainder of the scene features Cruise actually driving.
17. The crowd at the end of the chase scene that lets Reacher hide among them were all cast that night. Cruise recalls not understanding the scene at first, saying “I don’t get this moment!” until McQuarrie walked him onto the street and through the scene.
18. Test audiences felt there were too many scenes of the victims.
19. McQuarrie’s brother Doug was a technical adviser on the film and says Cruise is his greatest student. “He worked with me on Oblivion,” says Cruise, “I’m gonna have him on every movie he’s awesome.”
20. Cruise and Jai Courtney’s big fight scene in the cold rain required them to run and submerge themselves in hot tubs between takes.
Best in Commentary
- Cruise: “This is a movie.”
- Cruise: “Hitchcock would have been very upset with us that we cast her [Pike] before he cast her.”
- McQuarrie: “I’ve never met a more precise actor in terms of matching and continuity and it makes life extraordinarily easy in the cutting room.”
- McQuarrie: “The challenge of this car chase became the inverse of what is normally the case. Usually you’re trying to hide the fact that it’s not the actor driving, and what we were doing was killing ourselves to find ways to show that it was the actor driving without destroying the camera.”
- Cruise: “I have to say, phone calls. I gotta give Sydney Pollack credit because in doing The Firm I had so many phone calls in The Firm… and I said ‘Sydney, how are we gonna make these phone calls different,’ and he said ‘look at 3 Days of the Condor,’ and he would direct me in how he used the camera and positions to turn on different story points that gave the audience through choreography and lens choice that told the story, that gave me behavior to tell the story.”
- McQuarrie: “He [Herzog] was taking real delight in intimidating Rosamund.”
Cruise and McQuarrie are both extremely well versed in the technical details of film-making, and they’re equally complimentary to each other and to the rest of the cast and crew. Strangely, and often annoyingly, Cruise repeatedly cuts off McQuarrie while the director is sharing an interesting anecdote or observation. Worse, he does so twice just to talk about bridges! Still, Cruise is serious about making movies, and there’s probably nobody better to have in your corner while doing so.
Ultimately this is a fun and informative commentary, and while Cruise is annoying early on he makes up for it with his enthusiasm, professionalism and eventual courtesy.