For director Edward Zwick there is an appeal to the character of Jack Reacher that reminded the Chicago native and Oscar-winning filmmaker of “some of those iconic myths of movie storytelling. He’s really kind of a modern equivalent of a knight-errant. For me, the idea of someone who is so self-contained, who has cut himself off from society is, in itself, quite a powerful theme.
“But then added to that is an opportunity dramatically in this case — because we see what happens to him when he’s forced to face aspects of his life he might otherwise have hoped to avoid.”
In the case of “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” (opening Friday) that includes the possibility of having fathered a child he didn’t know about — plus being forced to personally connect with woman who is kind of his alter ego. She’s taken his former job, but then is framed in a mysterious, nefarious plot — “leading Reacher to have to become part of this surrogate family,” as Zwick described it.
“I thought it was an opportunity to have some fun plus add interesting and unexpected elements in a genre film,” he said. “The genre piece here, of course, is getting the bad guys and being chased. But I wanted this to be a little more like some of the films Tom [Cruise] and I had loved, like ‘Three Days of the Condor’ or ‘Bullitt,’ or movies where the emphasis is as much on the relationships as it is on the action.”
Zwick praised Cruise’s ability to both convincingly play the macho action hero and communicate more intimate, subtle moments as part of his repertoire.
“This was the second time for us working together, having worked once before and very happily [when Zwick directed Cruise in ‘The Last Samurai’]. What I loved here were the moments when it was very clear Tom was not giving us another version of Ethan Hunt [from his ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise]. His Reacher is so internal, and a man who does not open himself up very easily.
“But when he does — when you see that window open into Reacher’s soul — you see a certain amount of pain and a certain amount of loneliness. It’s a real performance by Tom that is somewhat unexpected, and I don’t believe there are a lot of guys who can deliver that, as he does.”
As for the film’s young co-star, Danika Yarosh, perhaps best known for co-starring on the “Shameless” TV series, Zwick chuckled about his history of working with up-and-coming actresses. In the film, a subplot focuses on whether she is — or is not — Reacher’s biological daughter.
“I’ve been very lucky in my career,” said Zwick. “Maybe it’s because I raised a daughter, I don’t know. But I met Claire Danes when she was like 14. Evan Rachel Wood was 13 1/2 and now Danika comes along — and she was 15 when we shot this film. I’ve been lucky to have connected with these wonderful young women at that age, but who already are old souls — and they can stand up, unafraid against a major movie star like Tom Cruise. That takes a lot.”
Zwick said he was lucky he was able to adapt a Jack Reacher book by Lee Child without a lot of stress caused by the author.
“Lee is a very sophisticated, lovely man — and above all he understands that a movie is not a book, and a book is not movie. He saw that I took what were the essential themes in the book and synthesized — or rather reduced it, as you would a sauce in the kitchen, down to its crucial elements.”
Beyond that, Zwick noted that he actually made a significant change to the plot that was not in Child’s original novel.
“In the book, Reacher meets the young woman [played by Yarosh] in the first scene, and then he doesn’t see her again until the last scene. I thought there was pure gold in that relationship and wanted to bring her along and play off that throughout the entire film.
“Lee loved that and was all for it — and, in fact, said, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?!’ “