Tom Cruise is still tough at 50 in the first ‘Jack Reacher’ trailer

Movie Talk

Today, July 3, is Tom Cruise's 50th birthday (yes, he starred in "Born on the Fourth of July" but the reality is off by a day). And while headlines over the weekend were dominated by news of his personal life, on screen he's not letting age or anything else slow him down.

Cruise shows he can still fight, shoot, and drive with the best of them in the first trailer for "Jack Reacher," an adaptation of the bestselling novel "One Shot" from the series of books by author Lee Child.

Reacher is a former Army M.P. who drifts across the country righting wrongs, usually with a lot of violence and very little sympathy.  And while Cruise doesn't in any way match the physical description of the towering, imposing character in the book, according to writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, he and Reacher have a lot in common. In fact, he said Reacher is more like who Tom Cruise is off-screen than any of his previous roles.

McQuarrie, who won an Oscar in 1995 for writing "The Usual Suspects," told me in a phone interview that when he discussed the role of Jack Reacher with Cruise, he emphasized how it was different from other action heroes he'd played in the past. McQuarrie said that in Cruise's other films he usually played "a character under extreme pressure in pursuit of the object of the plot."  Reacher, on the other hand, is "a character who does not experience pressure and who will not pursue anything at a pace other than his own. That's more akin [to] who Tom really is."

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McQuarrie got to know Cruise when they worked together on the film "Valkyrie," which McQuarrie wrote and Cruise starred in. "What I saw in Tom -- Tom the person -- is an extraordinarily confident, very open, charming person, and at the same time very much in control of himself and in his own destiny," McQuarrie said. "That really embodies the character elements that I was looking for in Reacher."

It wasn't just Cruise's attitude that made him right for the movie, McQuarrie went on say. It was also his dedication to training and preparing for the demands of the film.  McQuarrie said Cruise, "read every single book and knows more about Reacher than I do, quite frankly."  Cruise went through driving training for the film's car chase scene, and fight training to develop a signature style for Reacher that didn't involve any traditional martial arts.  McQuarrie said, "With the car chase and the fight scenes in this movie, it required 24 hours a day of preparation and, in some cases, it required 24 hours a day of shooting, and it required an actor who is willing to on camera risk his life."

McQuarrie said that Cruise, "does a couple of things in this movie that [if it were] anybody else doing it in that situation could've gotten seriously hurt... You couldn't have made this movie the way we made it with anybody else." When I asked him if there were any close calls when they were filming the stunts, McQuarrie answered, "I'm going to wink at you and say, 'Of course not.'"

I brought up to McQuarrie that some fans of Lee Child's novels objected to the casting of Cruise as Reacher because of how little the actor resembles the description of the character in the books (Reacher is said to be 6'5" and over 200 lbs. with blond hair).  McQuarrie said bringing a hero of that size onto a movie screen "presents a lot of cinematic obstacles, the biggest one quite frankly being any sort of suspense." In his estimation, he'd still need to fill the screen with bad guys who were "twice as big" if the audience was going to wonder how Reacher would make it out alive.

McQuarrie said, "What's important to me is Reacher's mind, Reacher's character, and more importantly, Lee Child's style of storytelling... there's brutality, there's complexity and there's wit.  I needed to infuse the script with that, and then I needed whoever was playing Jack Reacher to protect that fiercely, and that was Tom."  He concluded that if fans see the movie and can overcome their own image of the character, "they're going to find that we protected the things that were truly important about Jack Reacher which was his soul."

"Jack Reacher" will be in theaters on December 21.

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