Things I Learned From… Jack Reacher

There’s no doubt that Jack Reacher has been a disappointment at the box office. The big question, as always, is why. With a solid fan base for Lee Child’s novels and Tom Cruise in the lead role, this should have been a solid earner with sequel potential. So what went wrong?
There are probably a lot of contributing factors. Maybe Tom Cruise isn’t the star he once was, at least not without an established franchise. Maybe the marketplace was too crowded over the Christmas period, with higher profile movies mopping up Reacher’s potential audience.
But I do wonder if part of the problem is the nature of the story.
Jack Reacher is adapted from the novel One Shot, which has an intriguing enough premise: an ex-military sniper guns down five random people, leaving a trail of evidence any idiot cop could follow, and when arrested, says only one thing. “Get Jack Reacher.” And when former military policeman Reacher begins investigating, the situation turns out to be a lot more complicated than it appears…
So what’s wrong with that? Compelling central character, a mystery to solve, a man going to jail for something he may not have done, a conspiracy headed up by an interesting villain…
Here’s what I think. Human beings are drawn to the unique. We all remember the one time it snowed at Christmas, the one time we missed the train home, the one time we witnessed a terrible, newsworthy event in person.
Movies appeal directly to that urge by giving us storylines that appear unique, memorable, even startling. The one summer a man-eating shark prowled the seas around a holiday resort. The one Christmas terrorists took over an office building in LA, not knowing a NY cop was inside. The one time the alien ’invading’ Earth was actually just a lost child who just wanted to phone home.
It’s one reason why biopics and true stories always sell well. They have that element of uniqueness. Most people will never have to escape the Iranian Hostage Crisis, or survive a tsunami – but here are some people who did. Or they have the “one guy” factor: here’s the story of the one guy who stood up to racism, the one girl who took on the establishment, the one family who defied the law.
These are not everyday occurrences. They’re not even the most memorable or eye-catching of a series of everyday events, like a cop or a firefighter recounting the stories he remembers best, but which in the end are no more or less dramatic than the rest of his career. They’re game-changers. They’re historic. They’re genuinely unique.
And Jack Reacher isn’t.
Viewed objectively, it’s the story of some cops and lawyers untangling a difficult case, with help from an unusual source. Next week, they’ll probably have an equally difficult case, with different complicating factors.
Even viewed from the protagonist’s point of view, these events are pretty much business as usual for Reacher. The movie goes out of its way to suggest Reacher is a man who can’t turn his back on trouble, whether it’s large-scale injustice or a man beating his wife. Even if you weren’t aware of the other novels, it would be easy to surmise that Reacher spends a lot of time getting caught up in things that ’don’t concern him’. This one may be a little larger in scale, but it’s business as usual for Reacher –
And “business as usual” is television, not film. Why may explain a lot…

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One comment on “Things I Learned From… Jack Reacher

  1. There’s also the fact that, notoriously, films with a person’s name as the title don’t usually do very well (with the qualifier that the name isn’t one *everybody* knows). I bet “John Carter” would have done better if they’d kept the “From Mars”.

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