Director Edward Zwick is a rarity: his films – regardless of their faults – actually mean something. A not-exactly-prolific director, Zwick labours over his projects (which have included Glory, Courage Under Fire, Defiance, and the era-defining TV series, thirtysomething), polishing and fine-tuning them until they’re perfectly constructed and beautifully burnished. He’s a methodical, thoughtful, sensitive director with a burning sense of social justice. He also has an undeniable flair for the epic, and a striking ability to keep an audience entertained while simultaneously making them think.
All of which makes him a surprising pick to direct Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, the sequel to 2012’s action thriller, Jack Reacher, which was based on Lee Child’s popular recurring title character of an ex-Army investigator who knows how to get himself in and out of trouble. There was, however, one obvious connection: Edward Zwick had worked with Jack Reacher himself, Tom Cruise, on the 2003 historical epic, The Last Samurai. “Tom called and said, ‘Would you like to read this?’, and I said, ‘Sure, but I’ve never really done a sequel, or a franchise…do you really want me to do this?’ He said, ‘Please read this.’ I liked the book, and I realised that I liked the genre a lot. I’d never worked in the genre. I’ve read it since I was a kid. From Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, all the way up to George Pelecanos, there’s great writing in the genre, and Lee Child is certainly at the top of that game. And I realised that there was a possibility – and this may be presumptuous – that I could take this character, and this genre, and try to make it my own. Tom’s very supportive of that. He has a history of working with directors who have a vision. As a producer, he lets them try to make movies that reflect their ambition.”
Part of the appeal in that for Zwick was that the antagonist in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back was not looming from outside, but was rather one found from looking inward. Though certainly an action thriller above else, the film does ask questions about the US military, and its malfeasance with regards to both foreign policy and the treatment of its own service men and women. “There has to be an antagonist, and we’ve all read about some of the things that have happened, in terms of Blackwater and Iran and Iraq,” Zwick says. “I read a lot about what went on in Afghanistan, where there were ex-SAS, and ex all sorts of contractors, who were getting involved with warlords, and they were protecting opium fields. Some of it’s in the book, by the way, and we felt that this was a legitimately plausible contemporary antagonist. And also, you ask yourself, ‘Okay, if you’re a military investigator, what crimes could happen within the military that would be of a certain scale, and a certain level of stakes, that would have led to this kind of story?’ So, you’re making an interesting comment about the fact that we’re finding fault with ourselves. I made a movie called Courage Under Fire, which was about friendly fire in The Gulf War, so it’s not the first time for me.”
Did Zwick look at any action films in order to get a handle on the genre? “No, I didn’t,” he replies. “Not in that sense. There are certain tropes in the action genre, and at a certain point, having seen enough, you know those tropes, and you have to serve them to a certain degree. My challenge was how to serve them, and also serve the other agenda of these relationships that really interested me in the movie. How could that be organic to both? And in that sense, when you try to make a hybrid, you hope that one thing isn’t bumping up against the other. You’re trying to integrate them, and that was the real challenge. It’s really a process of just working on draft, after draft, after draft of this script, and trying to serve both masters.”
Though Edward Zwick is obviously up to the challenge of crafting his first bona fide action flick with Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, there is one obvious question that needs answering: what happened to Jack Reacher director, Christopher McQuarrie, who is on board this time solely as a producer? “I’ve known Chris for fifteen years, and two directors working together is interesting,” Zwick replies. “When I produced Traffic, with Steven Soderbergh, it was a very interesting dialectic. A director who is producing knows that he’s not directing the movie. You want the privilege of saying anything that you want, but it’s the director’s decision of whether he listens or not. Chris was very respectful of me, and he had some good ideas, and he had other ideas that I kind of went ‘No’, and he was cool with that. The reason that he didn’t do Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is because he just finished Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, and they’re already prepping another one! He couldn’t do both. And he decided, and I understand why he decided, based on the success of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, that he wanted to do another one. I’m not allowed to tell you where he was scouting, but he’s already on it…”
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is released in cinemas on October 20.