Film Reviews

JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK

By • Oct 22nd, 2016 •

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Jack Reacher may be cinema’s reigning street-fighting ascetic.

Lee Child’s 21st Jack Reacher book, Night School, will be published in a few short weeks. Fans of the series are dedicated to the famously addictive books. I’ve read three Jack Reacher books: One Shot, which was the basis for the first Jack Reacher movie starring Tom Cruise; Running Blind, a decent detective story with little ass-kicking action, and Never Go Back, adapted as the second Jack Reacher movie starring Tom Cruise in his second studio franchise.

I prefer Tom Cruise to John Goodman. Per Lee Child’s books, Goodman should be playing Jack Reacher. Think about Goodman running to catch a bus or attempting to hitchhike across America.

Lee Child and Paramount Pictures understand that the basis of all the books – a fifty-something, ex-military cop who wanders the USA from motel to motel, traveling on buses and hitchhiking, living on a monthly pension, basically homeless, but with a sharp investigative eye and superior ass-kicking skills which leads him into adventures from state to state – could not be translated directly page by page to film.

What works for a novel does not necessarily suit the Hollywood formula for what works in a big-screen adaptation. This is where the films, JACK REACHER and JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK are improvements over their source material.

The screenplay is written by Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick (who also directed) and Marshall Herskovitz.

In NEVER GO BACK, only the basic plot of the book is used: Reacher (Cruise) has a flirtatious phone relationship with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), commanding officer of the 110th MP in Virginia (Reacher’s old stomping ground). When he gets there to ask her for a date – our man Jack doesn’t use UBER. He’s a bus patron – Reacher is told that Turner has been arrested for espionage. He’s also told that he owes child support for a teenager, Samantha (Danika Yarosh), who may or may not be his daughter. He is also implicated in a death.

imagesReacher cleverly breaks Turner out of Hollywood prison and they go to find his “daughter,” and now fugitives from the law, must clear their names in the process.

As far as keeping faithful to the book, that’s it. All the rest is the work of the screenwriters. The opening scene, with Reacher announcing, “In ninety seconds, two things are going to happen: that phone’s going to ring, and you’re going to be wearing these handcuffs”, belongs to Wenk & Company.

There are only less than a half-dozen scenes from the book directly in the film.

That opening scene shows the aftermath of a Reacher brawl. He’s sitting at a diner drinking coffee after knocking out 4 or 5 guys. The police are there to arrest him but Reacher’s prescient pronouncement busts the cops for aiding a slave market operation.

The villain in NGB is standard-issue for Reacher – but he’s good. The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger), is a determined assassin. He’s an excellent marksman and skilled at brutal hand-to-hand combat. The obligatory fight-to-the-death ensues at the end but this time Reacher has help. The for-hire assassin is always backed by a shadowy boss, who uses murder to cover up some great monetary profit. Is there any other reason to hire an expensive assassin?

With NGB the character of Jack Reacher is fleshed out. He’s a lonely figure who resorts to a lot of hitchhiking to get around. Maybe Reacher is not as financially independent as we thought in the previous film. Can’t splurge on a nice motel room until the next pension check arrives.

As in the book, Reacher and Turner find Samantha. Here, she’s also part of the action. Whether they’re related or not, Reacher becomes a reluctant father figure and not only rescues her from the bad guys but helps her get into a fancy school.

Seeing Reacher’s more human side makes it a better film and foreshadows what is eventually to come – what made Jack Reacher such a loner?

reacher-header-2_1050_591_81_s_c1Cruise is in his element. No Mission Impossible gadgetry, fancy costume changes or sneaky impersonations. Jack Reacher is a man of the streets who has two tee-shirts and $30 in his pocket.

Meanwhile, we have Smulders as our Hollywood tough girl. While 5’8” and probably 110lbs, Smulders gives Turner more menace than Reacher. Turner is a woman not to be toyed with. She is every bit as mean and fanatical as The Hunter and can down a man three times her size. Sure, she takes a few hits that land her flying across a warehouse floor, but she gets up and goes back in! When she’s not at her office desk, she’s practicing at a gun range making lethal head shots.

Just how realistic are these women fighters? And why, when our movie heroes kill all of the well-armed fifty assassins after them, the surviving assassins don’t just say, “the hell with it” and hightail it out of there? I always wonder, is there a bonus for the guy who makes the kill? If not, it’s rather a thankless task.

NGB’s Edward Zwick also directed Tom Cruise in THE LAST SAMURAI (2003). He gives Cruise enough room to show Reacher as a man who has given up on humanity and defiantly has rejected any comforts of a normal life. Jack Reacher may be cinema’s reigning street-fighting ascetic.

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/.
Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com.

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