Cars and Fights in the City of Pittsburgh
In the tradition of such classic thrillers of the 1970s as BULLITT and THE FRENCH CONNECTION, JACK REACHER boasts a stunning car chase sequence through the downtown streets and alleys of Pittsburgh, where the story takes place.
Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Caleb Deschanel harkened back to such '70s thrillers as THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE. With that in mind, McQuarrie decided to shoot in anamorphic wide screen, as many of those classic films had, and to avoid anything "shiny and new" about Reacher, per McQuarrie. To compliment this, the film shot on location in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which gave the production "an industrial feel," according to Granger.
"Pittsburgh conjures that great city-dug-out-of-the-rock, mined-out-of-the-earth and built out of the Industrial Revolution, with its rich palette of steel, red clay and earth tones. That is evident in the way that Jim Bissell designed the movie, and the way Susan Matheson has costumed the characters, particularly Reacher. We wanted to introduce our version of the quintessential new American hero in very much the quintessential American city."
A classic feature of the best American action movies is the car chase, one of the few things for which Jack Reacher -- who doesn't drive -- is not prepared.
Originally, the car chase was scheduled to be filmed over five nights, but Cruise suggested McQuarrie expand the sequence and make it the signature piece of the film. McQuarrie recalls, "Tom said, 'I want you to go for it. I want you to look at all your favorite car chases. Tell me what you want to do and we'll make it happen."
McQuarrie met with (second unit director and stunt coordinator) Paul Jennings to map out such a sequence. "Chris and I sat down in a room and started talking about what we could do to be different and new," Jennings remembers. "At the same time, we still wanted it to be classic, based on the great car chases we all knew and loved. We reasoned that everyone thinks how to shoot a car chase is to cheat angles, make this look quicker, fast cutting. And we thought 'You know what? They just drove really fast in those old movies. That's why it looked cool.'" McQuarrie and Jennings also realized that Cruise is an experienced and professional driver. "Chris and I decided we should be using Tom in every shot that we possibly could," says Jennings. "And if the camera is not in danger, the shot is not worth doing..." Cruise fully embraced this philosophy and over the next two months he worked with Jennings and McQuarrie to meticulously plan every beat of the chase, including all the high-speed driving and collisions. Most importantly, Cruise and McQuarrie agreed that Cruise would drive the entire car chase.
But the biggest challenge would be schedule. "We originally had five days for the whole chase," McQuarrie explains. "Now it was much bigger. But Tom was determined to keep us on time and on budget. This required him to work 24 hour days. No days off. A 30 minute nap between a long day with main unit and an all-nighter with the action unit. No one else could do that. No one."
From there, talk turned to utilizing Cruise's accomplished driving skills and putting them to good use. Prior to cameras rolling for the extensive shoot of the chase, Cruise trained with a stunt driving expert in Los Angeles, which he then continued on location, behind the wheel of one of nine 1970 Chevrolet Chevelles obtained by production (rounded up from Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and a broker in Connecticut). Granger recalls the day he "dropped by to see how the car was running."
"There's a parking lot across the river that he was practicing in, just him and one of the stunt drivers. Tom is going up and down, driving around the cones laid out for the stunts. 'C'mon, get in,' he said. When I got in, he put on his five-point harness, and I'm in this little lap belt. He's doing three-sixties, donuts, sliding in and out of turns-I never wanted to get back in the car. That was enough for me."
But all that exacting practice paid off. Cruise wound up driving the entire chase sequence himself, "from start to finish. I will tell you this. I don't know that anyone could shoot a car chase like this ever again for the following reason-you'd have to find somebody like Tom who wanted to put themselves in a car, and launch themselves into other cars going 60 miles an hour. And secondly, you'd have to find somebody who was actually trained to do that, even if they wanted to. I don't know anybody else other than Tom who fits both those requirements," says Granger.
"Make no mistake, it was fun driving those cars," comments Cruise. "The sound of the engines, the potential of what we were going to get on screen ... they weren't on rigs, we didn't shoot green screen, so we planned as much as we could but even then, you don't know 100% what is going to happen because of road conditions. We're talking about wet surfaces, cold tires, changing temperatures, a car that has a lot of sway to it and I'm not in a cage. Basically, I had a five-point harness on underneath [my wardrobe.] We put in a racing seat and stabilizers but there was still a lot of impact -- plus the consideration of a camera mounted inside or outside the car. It was real precision work and it was sensational - driving those cars and seeing how far we could push it," Cruise says.
Second unit director Jennings muses, "I learned a lot about guns, forensics and cars. Every movie you do, you learn something. During the car chase, we had to shoot it in a whole different way, because now we were trying to shoot the actor in the car, as opposed to a stunt driver in the car, which is a lot more common. It was a new way of filming the chase, and it was exciting."
Befitting an unconventional hero like Reacher, the film features an uncommon fighting style; the Keysi Fighting Method. Created in Spain, this style was chosen as it best reflects Reacher's raw, brutal "street-fighting" technique, acquired during his formative years living abroad. Keysi is a self-defense method of basic combat principals guided by a heightened sense of natural instincts. It utilizes elbows, knees, the leverage of weight -- all favorites of Jack Reacher. The style also seeks ways of fighting multiple opponents. Cruise began training withJennings and assistant stunt coordinator Robert Alonzo, seven days a week for four months, until the fighting style became instinct. Meanwhile, Cruise, McQuarrie, Alonzo, Jennings, and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel went to work painstakingly choreographing the three major fight scenes in the film. As with the car chase, there would be none of the usual film artifice of shaking cameras and fast editing to create false energy. Instead, the camera would remain outside the periphery, forcing Cruise and his combatants to really trade blows. Fights would be shorter, more physically exhausting, hits would be more devastating. What emerges on screen is as close to real hand-to-hand combat that has been seen in cinema for a very long time.
Fight choreographer Alonzo elaborates: "The fights in JACK REACHER designed from a military and tactical background. We utilized a lot of knife drills, aiming for high, middle and low target points, which would be more deadly the higher the striking point. I didn't want anything to get too over-choreographed, so I trained Tom how to fight in that particular style. I worked with him for a couple months, pretty much daily, and got him to engage in reactionary movement. I trained him as a fighter, so that at any point in time, he is reacting to a fight, not executing choreography."
Cruise readied himself for the daunting task of tackling the stunts created for JACK REACHER during pre-production, and he even continued his grueling schedule of rehearsals, filming, training and stunt work during principal photography. It was important to Cruise to master these sequences because "Chris and I would talk forever about how each fight had to be distinct and propel the story."
As such, one key fight sequence -- or rather, Reacher's approach to it -- reveals Reacher's true nature. In a pivotal scene, a group of thugs challenge Reacher and over and over he warns them that combat will end badly -- for them.
"Reacher is someone who just wants his freedom, to live his life as he chooses but he gets pulled into these situations because he carries a sense of responsibility, of what is right. The fight outside the bar is a great example. He doesn't want to do it, he resists it but he gets pushed into a position where he has to fight these people. He has a level of integrity and humanity that is unique," Cruise notes.
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