The cinematic adaptation of Lee Child’s Never Go Back hit the movie theaters a couple of weeks ago. In this post, we’ll see whether the movie adaptation measures up to the book. Based on the eighteenth novel in the Jack Reacher series, the sequel ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’ has Tom Cruise reprise his role as the titular character with Cobie Smulders taking on the role of Major Susan Turner.
Though Lee Child’s first Jack Reacher thriller came out in 1998, I read the first novel “Killing Floor” only after the first movie came out in 2012. I was fascinated enough to read all the novels published till date. Reacher is an unusual protagonist, walking the fine line between a hero and an anti-hero. After spending his entire life in the army, first as a child and later as a military policeman he has no home and no family (Read his bio). Since leaving the army, he has been walking across America, exploring and trying to know his homeland. He is 6'5", audacious and intimidating. But he has brains to go along with the brawn. A thinker, keen on the details, and economical in his every action, even at his most vulnerable he is in control and sangfroid. He’s like Batman without the riches, technology and compunctions, waiting in the shadows to teach the bad guys an unforgettable lesson. His only weakness is perhaps an inability to turn a blind eye to any injustice in the vicinity. This credo often leads to Reacher finding himself embroiled in impossible situations. He simply cannot walk away from a problem. And that is where the party begins. When he ‘deals’ with the problem in his inimitable style, you root for him, marvel at his temerity, and for once you are certain that the villains will get their due with interest – not a penny more, not a penny less.
Ok, I’m done fangirling; now let’s get back to Never Go Back (the novel and movie). Jack Reacher reaches Virginia to meet Major Susan Turner, only to find her in jail for treason and discover that he may have a teenage daughter. Reacher and Turner race against time and law to unravel a government conspiracy and protect his new-found kid. A movie, limited by its runtime, may not have the liberty to do justice to all the character angles and complicated plot machinations. So, as in most cinematic adaptations, this movie has streamlined the story removing certain extra characters and plots. Let’s start at the beginning.
#1 Plausible reason for Reacher to meet Susan Turner: In the novel, Reacher turns up in Virginia to meet Susan Turner for the simple reason he found her voice interesting. In the movie, the reason is less vague with Reacher talking to CO Susan Turner over the phone, making them a little more than strangers and giving him a more solid reason for visiting her.
#2 Charges against Reacher: In the book, in addition to the paternity suit, Reacher is implicated in the assault on a drug dealer which took place sixteen years ago. Lieutenant colonel Morgan recalls Reacher to the military service on a technicality to prosecute him for the criminal charges. Both the paternity suit and the assault are used by the bad guys as a ploy to deter Reacher from assisting Major Susan Turner. But the movie does away with the assault case charges, using only the paternity claim element, maybe to add a more emotional angle to the story.
#3 Major Jack Reacher: In the movie, Reacher repeatedly eschews his title as “Major, which makes it appear as if he has a major contention with the army. I wonder why? In the book, he actually smartly uses his position to gain access and information from underlings. Also, throughout the book series, you realize he is an army man at the core, despite its multiple failings.
#4 The Hunter: The movie follows the book quite faithfully till Reacher and Turner break out of Joint base and go on the run. Following which the screenplay completely deviates from the novel, turning into a run-of-the-mill conspiracy thriller. Most noticeably, Shrago and all the other henchmen tackling Reacher in the book are condensed into one formidable foe ‘the hunter’ in the movie. The hunter goes rogue in the movie, killing at will, with his final face-off with Reacher becoming the movie climax.
#5 The Daughter: Samantha Dayton, Reacher’s possible daughter, is a fully formed character in the movie. In the novel, she doesn’t turn up until you are three fourths through. The movie gives her a more developed story with a former addict mother, foster parents, and an exceptional presence of mind. Her spunky attitude and survival instincts have both Reacher and the audience wondering whether the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. Reacher spends most of the movie protecting Sam, figuring out fatherhood and bonding while trying to figure out the conspiracy. In my opinion, the filmmakers expanded Sam’s role to up the stakes for Reacher with a touch of vulnerability.
#6 Prudhomme: Reacher and team land up in New Orleans on the trail of Prudhomme, a soldier and witness to the events in Afghanistan. A character not in the book, Prudhomme returned to US afraid for his life after the murder of Turner’s men, eluded the hunter, and abandoned his family to become a hardcore junkie. How he manages to do that without a hitch in just a few days is an inexplicable plot hole. The character seems to exist only to convince Espin of Turner’s innocence and to stage the finale in New Orleans.
#7 The Conspiracy: The conspiracy in the book hinges on the cover-up of opium smuggling by two top-level army chiefs (calling themselves Romeo and Juliet), who escape capture at the end by committing suicide. In the movie, the partnership is reduced to a single Army General calling the shots, who is caught at the end, but not before the hunter seeking revenge on Reacher zeroes on his supposed daughter.
There were other minor omissions in the movie such as the assistance given by Tracy Edmonds (Reacher’s lawyer), the altercations with the Claughtons, and the comatose Moorcraft (he’s killed off in the movie). But they don’t really make much of a difference in the story.
The movie is fast-paced and action-packed much like the book. It is an enjoyable flick, perhaps more so if you haven’t read the books. As a fan of the Reacher series, however, I have concerns with the portrayal of Jack Reacher. Firstly, I have a tad trouble accepting nearly 5’8” Tom Cruise as the bulky 6’5” Reacher. Tom Cruise doesn’t seem intimidating enough. Secondly, his characterization is inconsistent with the book and within the movie itself. The opening sequence of the movie develops Reacher as a force to be reckoned with, calmly having coffee after singlehandedly beating up five men involved in human trafficking (check out YouTube Video here). However, you see our lead guy not holding up so well in a confrontation with the bad guy. Hell, it was not even an equal fight, with Reacher being repeatedly thrown down by the Hunter despite Turner joining the fight. Maybe the movie makers wanted to set up the Hunter as a ruthless, worthy opponent for Reacher. Why at this cost? Nobody flings Reacher around like a rag doll. I found the dissonance between the character in the book and the movie jarring.
Sans the gritty, grey temperament that makes the books entertaining, this movie is just another predictable lukewarm sequel to Mission Impossible without the tech wizardry and team work.
(Click here to watch the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRwrdbcAh2s)