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'Reacher' Stunt Team Debates: Driving or Fighting?

17 Apr, 2013 By: Chris Tribbey

Paul Jennings, stunt coordinator and second unit director of 'Jack Reacher,' does interviews at Paramount April 17.

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Who needs a stunt double when you have Tom Cruise?

The stunt coordinators behind Jack Reacher — out May 7 on disc (digital download April 23) from Paramount Home Media Distribution — can only smile and shake their heads when describing the work the veteran actor put into the action flick.

“Tom worked on two units, day and night, finish over here on first unit at six in the evening, then come over to second unit and work until three, four in the morning,” said Paul Jennings, stunt coordinator and second unit director for the film. “It took dedicated people to pull this off, especially [Director] Chris [McQuarrie] and Tom, and we’re very proud of it. We hope it stands.”

Jennings and other stunt coordinators from the film gathered on the Paramount Pictures lot April 17 to debate which was more impressive: Cruise’s driving or his fighting?

‘Classical’ Car Chase

Jennings loves most any film with a good car chase, but he finds they’re mostly “about flipping cars, blowing cars up, fancy camera angles, fancy camera moves. [McQuarrie] wanted to go in the more classical, Bullitt direction.”

And since Cruise was already a professional driver, “We just got him behind the wheel of a Chevrolet Chevelle SS, and he already knew what he was doing. Tom, Chris and I got together and decided: ‘Why not let him do everything?’”

Instead of just a few days for the car chase, the team worked on it for a couple months. And instead of close-ups of the actor paired with shots of a stunt driver skidding around corners (slamming into other vehicles and barriers, avoiding head-on collisions, etc.) it’s all Cruise.

“And he’s one of the few actors in the world who could and would be allowed to do that, and be willing to do that,” Jennings laughed. “Impacting with police cars, impacting with walls, hitting barrels coming out of tunnels at 40 miles an hour. Yes, we were biting our nails a lot. Yes, we damaged a lot of cars.”

And Jennings is pointing owners of the discs to the bonus features to show how much work Cruise put into it.

“It’ll be enlightening for people to see just how much Tom did, and how good his driving is,” Jennings said.

‘Not a Kung-Fu Movie’

However, as impressive as the car chase through the streets of Pittsburgh may have turned out, Robert Alonzo — the assistant stunt coordinator who worked with Cruise for months on his moves — wants Blu-ray Disc owners to check out the fight work first.

“We designed the fighting style around Jack Reacher’s character,” Alonzo said. “Jack Reacher is someone who steps up to confrontation, both from a personality and a fighting standpoint.”

The fighting method — combining what’s known as the Keysi Fighting Method with a form of Filipino martial arts known as Sambrada — employs counter-for-counter drills, utilizes “lots of elbows, lots of knees,” and is geared toward “protecting yourself in extreme situations,” Jennings added.

“Most street fights happen very, very quickly, and people close distance very, very quickly,” Alonzo explained. “In my approach with training Tom, it differed greatly from the type of training he did with, say, The Last Samurai, primarily because of the difference in space. Street fights happen very fast, and that’s how they played out in the movie. Very real.”

Alonzo spent weeks and weeks working with Cruise on his fighting style before spending even a moment with choreography, because: “I told Tom, ‘You’re going to have to be responsible for protecting yourself at all times,’” he chuckled.

In other words, when you watch the fights in Jack Reacher, they’re as close to the real thing as you’ll see in movies, Alonzo and Jennings said. Stuntmen don’t move before Cruise does, “giving you a feeling he’s fighting for real.”

From embarrassing five guys in an open space, to responding instinctively when thugs get the drop on him, to taking on actor Jai Courtney’s (A Good Day to Die Hard) murderous character, each fight looks real. And there’s a reason, Alonzo said.

“Because he is fighting for real.” None of this one-guy-at-a-time nonsense. Cruise was trained to expect several attackers at once, and “he wanted to be in these fights, be that street machine,” Jennings said. “And he can take anyone.”

Other bonuses from the Blu-ray include commentaries with Cruise, McQuarrie and composer Joe Kraemer; a look at the “Jack Reacher” franchise with author-creator author Lee Child; and more.

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