The Unique Fighting and Driving of Jack Reacher
by Kyle Anderson on April 23, 2013
Recently, a press event was held at the Paramount lot which showcased the stunt performers and sequences for the Tom Cruise film Jack Reacher, which is out today for Digital Download and will hit Blu-ray and DVD on May 7th. Anyone who saw the film knows that the character of Jack Reacher had a fighting style unlike what has been seen in modern films, and he drove a really sweet old Chevy Chevelle a bit like a maniac. Both of these elements were carefully chosen to personify his temperament and mindset, which we got to experience first-hand.
The above clip shows Jack Reacher taking on five (really three, he says) drunken brawlers and dispatching them rather quickly. That’s not simply because it’s scripted; that’s due to Tom Cruise being taught a modified version of the Keysi fighting method, a type of street fighting which first attempts to protect the head before before attacking anyone. (This style was also employed by Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.) It allows the fighter to get very close to his or her opponent and block and deflect while striking with elbows, knees, and hammer fists.
It’s a very reactive style of fighting, which Jack Reacher‘s assistant stunt coordinator and fight choreographer, Robert Alonzo, a veteran of over 120 films, says was imperative for the lead character. “In a lot of movie fighting, people tend to focus primarily on the choreography of the movement instead of the real believability of the movement within the character,” he said. “I trained Tom how to fight in that particular style, not showing him any choreography at all until we got closer to the shooting of those fight sequences because I wanted to build the natural movement in him.”
For the purposes of the movie, Alonzo changed the normal practice of Keysi, which involves being covered up for maximum protection. While that’s very practical for daily life, it’s not very conducive to film. “I made it theatrically applicable to this character. In the purest form of Keysi fighting method, it’s very difficult to view the character because you’re constantly in a covered position. We focused on the basic movements of Keysi while maintaining the mindset of looking through your guards constantly so you’re able to fight off multiple opponents and allow them to come in much, much closer than normal.”We members of the press at the event were treated to the chance to learn a small piece of the above fight sequence from Rob and his stunt team, which we then got to implement. The number one thing we learned was to always react to what the other performers were doing, and not simply anticipate the next move. This was the very approach he took when choreographing Jack Reacher’s fights. “What he’s doing is physical dialogue,” Alonzo said, “So, if he’s moving before the stunt performer is moving, he’s literally stepping on their lines. We need to have clear, distinct dialogue physically.”
Remember: Always cover your head.
Another huge aspect of Jack Reacher’s character is what he drives and the way he drives it. The car in question is a V8-powered Chevy Chevelle, which positively roars with its 500 horse power. In the above clip, you can see that it doesn’t handle particularly well and that he tends to be crashing through a lot. This was planned out to the letter to exemplify Reacher’s personality: at once precise and reckless.
Tom Cruise did all of his own stunt driving in the film, something which came in very handy for shooting the action. “Tom happens to be one of the best stunt drivers I’ve ever met,” said Second Unit Director Paul Jennings. “Every crash, every single thing you see in that chase sequence is Tom.” This allowed the camera to be right in the car with Cruise as he made his various turns and screeches and contributed to the overall impact of the scene. Jennings adds, “That’s how you make a car chase great, by having great drivers driving really fast.”
The car itself was specially designed to take all of the impacts inherent when doing this kind of chase scene. Stunt driver Joey Box, whose stunt resume goes all the way back to the 1980s, said of the handling of the Chevelle, “Any time you’re on ice, or in extreme weather conditions, it made it tough, because it is such a powerful car, and any time you get into the throttle, you’re all over the place.” However, there wasn’t much danger to any one involved given the safety features inserted into the car. “We took everything into account. You’ll notice, this car is all reinforced on the sides, it has a crash bumper on the back, fuel cell, special seats, five-point harness; this car was made to smash and crash.”
You can see these sequences and more in Jack Reacher, which is available now for digital download. For more on how the stunts were achieved, pick up the Blu-ray and DVD when it hits store shelves on May 7th.