Reaching the Limits

Screenplay by: Christopher McQuarrie, based on the book by Lee Child

Thanks to the wonders of Netflix, I stumbled across Jack Reacher a few nights ago, a film I have been interested in seeing for a while. What’s not to like about a Tom Cruise thriller? And it is always a delight to see Rosamund Pike, even if she is simply acting as the damsel in distress in this movie.

But that is an entirely different discussion.

I enjoyed the film, it was two hours of fun, it didn’t drag and I enjoyed the plot and acting. However, it got me thinking about the Pixar Rule of Story #1: Characters you Admire and the idea that we will root for characters who struggle – check the post and remind yourself of your love for George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Cruise’s Reacher is an interesting character in so far as he is the “mysterious drifter” who rolls into town to right wrongs and deal out justice to the bad guys. We all like to see the bad guys get their comeuppance, so we are always going to be on Reacher’s side – this IS Tom Cruise we are talking about!

However, that only took me so far.

(SPOILERS)

Throughout the film, Reacher comes up against more and more barriers, either people or mysteries that he needs to solve; and rightly so. But he does so, with ease. Frightening ease. The only point in the film where I ever felt any slight tension for him was when he got a baseball bat to the back of the head. Incompetent goons and a little bit of slapstick got him out of that one, and he still managed to take on three men while nursing a lump and, probably, a pretty serious concussion.

The first time we see him in action he takes down a group of thugs single-handedly, and we expect that – we expect that one scene where we find out just how dangerous the mysterious stranger is. After that, I expect him to struggle at least a bit and, at one point, find himself in a predicament that threatens not only his life, but his friends.

That moment never came.

Even with his damsel in (minimal) distress and held at gunpoint, he manages to take all the bad guys out and rescue the girl without any sniff of resistance from the “Big Bad” who just lets him put a bullet in his head. But by the time we had got to this point in the film, I really didn’t expect anything else.

And that ruined the suspense.

There just wasn’t enough conflict and danger for Reacher. I know we are unlikely to see a film in which Cruise dies, but we all know “Conflict Creates Drama”! I just didn’t feel enough of it.

Having said all that, I did enjoy the film and would recommend it if you enjoy a slick, polished thriller. However, for me, it didn’t quite make “great” status because of the lack of tension, which is pretty important in a thriller.

The take-away? Don’t forget the conflict and suspense. Don’t forget to make it hard for your protagonist to make it to their goals… and the end of the film!

Have you seen Reacher?

Did you feel there was a lack of suspense or danger for the lead?

Feel free to comment below and let me know your views if you have seen the film.

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Posted on April 18, 2015, in Character, Films, Writing Rules and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Ah. I haven’t seen this one, so I stopped reading halfway. I’ll come back when I see it. I’m curious to know your thoughts about it. I’m not a Tom Cruise fan, though.

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