Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher, Never Go Back (Action/Adventure/Crime)
Jack Reacher (first film in the franchise)
Ronnie Tharp-Garber
Scrip-O-Meter rating: 3

Premise: While on the run as a fugitive, Jack Reacher must uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy that has implicated soldiers who have been set up and killed.
Designing Principle: A lonely man with a complicated past achieves redemption through helping others who are up against a hugely corrupt system.
Theme: Through “doing the right thing,” a man can also find closure to his personal past pain.

Jack Reacher (first film)
Premise: A homicide investigator digs deeper into a case involving a trained military sniper who shot five random victims.
Designing Principle: A lonely man with a complicated past achieves redemption through helping others who are up against a hugely corrupt system.
Theme: Through “doing the right thing,” a man can also find closure to his personal past pain

Note: In both of the Jack Reacher films, the “traveling angel” sub-genre is used in story structure.

The “traveling angel story” is a sub-genre, which is found in Westerns (Shane, Louis L’Amour stories), Detective Stories (Jack Reacher and Hercule Poirot stories), Comedies (Crocodile Dundee, Chocolat, Good Morning, Vietnam), and Musicals (Mary Poppins, The Music Man).

In the “traveling angel story,” the hero enters a community in trouble, helps the inhabitants fix things, and then moves on to help the next community.

The problems inherent in using a “traveling angel” sub-genre for an action film with a linear form, where the action moves from point A to point B with record-breaking speed is that the Narrative Drive suffers. The sub-plot slows down the forward movement of the story.

Jack Reacher is a loner with a past that weighs on him. He is a military hero and he does the right thing by other humans and he honors the military and the fighting men and women. He lives by honor and truth and doesn’t mess around with anyone who is not on that page. He moves swiftly and without physical baggage, such as an I.D. or a driver’s license, or a permanent home. He is a “traveling angel,” who solves problems wherever he finds them.

To increase the Narrative Drive, the “traveling angel” character could have been the Point-of-View character for the Hero. The Hero’s story is told in linear sequence and because of the “traveling angel” appearing, the Hero is able to achieve his Desire/Goal; he is also given a boost when trying to deal with all the obstacles that are put in place by the Opponent(s), which reach into a layered government corruption scheme.

But in the genre of Action, the “traveling angel” as the Hero himself with a secret past can slow down the Narrative Drive of this particular genre. In Comedy, Drama, or Fantasy, which could employ a branching story form, the “traveling angel” would add depth to the story.

In Jack Reacher Never Go Back, we also have that secret past to deal with. When this issue is part of the present plot, again, it could slow the Narrative Drive. The Hero stops and enters into some of the back story that deals with this secret in Reacher’s past.

He also has a potential love interest sub-plot, which never materializes because as the “traveling angel,” he moves on and that is an understood by the female love interest, but never really resolved with the audience. Why? Because there is no set-up for that love interest, except for a phone conversation at the beginning of the story. The audience does not get the time to get invested in this love interest and is left hanging. There is some back and forth dialogue, but in a good script the “show, don’t tell” is much more convincing. In one of the scenes, the potential love interest is in bra and underpants in a hotel room. Reacher has just taken a shower. They sit and chat. Why put the love interest in scanty underwear? It’s a tease for the audience, but does not make sense to the plot.

Jack Reacher’s Weakness is that he is a loner and sometimes he does get lonely by setting things straight all the time and then moving on, with no roots ever planted anywhere. As each script should be self-contained, Reacher has extraordinary fighting skills where he can knock out opponents pretty quickly, but this is not set up in this story. The audience doesn’t know how he got these skills, so therefore, it is not entirely believable. The fight scenes and the car chases are excellent for this genre, but the audience would be more invested if there had been a set-up in a Training Story Beat in the beginning of the second act – When Reacher finds himself part of a conspiracy along with his potential love interest.

Reacher’s Need is that he wants to be a loner and is perfectly happy with his “traveling angel” persona. But according to his Weakness, the Need does not match. In order to create irony, the Need is not the same as the weakness. His Need, although he doesn’t realize it, should be to stop roaming and face his past and not run from it. His Desire/Goal is to “do the right thing” and always prevent corruption and help the person who is in trouble. But this Desire/Goal should have an effect on the Hero’s Weakness and help him to achieve that Character Arc the audience is waiting to see evolve by the end of the story. His past secret does catch up with him and there is a resolution to that and a Self-Revelation moment, but it is contiguous to all of the main actions of the story. It seems like a convenient add on, as Reacher goes his own way once again.

A twist on the “traveling angel” in an Action genre would be to have the “traveling angel” Hero have a “traveling angel” – someone he has picked up during his wanderings – This could be his point-of-view character and then the Hero would be freed up to take all of the actions necessary in this genre to get to his Goal/Desire. If he settles down, he would do it uncomfortably, but the potential romance could then be left hanging until the next Jack Reacher, and the point-of-view “traveling angel” could be on his/her way. It could be left hanging that Reacher just might not like the settling down, but would rather team up with the point-of-view character in the next Jack Reacher.

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