The West

Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise. Picture: Karen Ballard/Paramount Pictures

Back in the 1980s, Christopher McQuarrie was a New Jersey high school graduate who didn't want to go to college. Instead, he spent a year right here in Perth, and remembers it fondly.

"I was offered an Interim program," the Oscar-winning writer of The Usual Suspects says while on a quick publicity tour for his new film, the legal action- thriller Jack Reacher, starring Tom Cruise.

"I picked a place out of a hat and ended up at Christ Church Grammar School. I lived at the school and worked at the boarding school, though I did very little work. It was during the America's Cup in 1986-7, so I spent a lot of time in Fremantle and at Clancy's Bar."

Chuffed to learn that Clancy's now has three bars in Perth, McQuarrie says he returned home to spend the next five years working at his uncle's detective agency, which has "informed everything I've written since". That includes The Usual Suspects, the upcoming X-Men prequel The Wolverine, and Jack Reacher, which is based on One-Shot, the ninth of 17 best-selling Reacher novels by Lee Child.

The film, which plays like a John Grisham film with more action, begins with a sniper shooting five seemingly random people. The accused man's lawyer (Rosamund Pike) teams up with military investigator Jack Reacher (Cruise), who thinks another sniper is responsible, and that the shooting may not be as random as it appears.

The conspiracy thriller co-stars Robert Duvall, Richard Jenkins and WAAPA graduate Jai Courtney. McQuarrie admits it had been "languishing" since the book was published in 2005. Having only directed one film (The Way of the Gun) that bombed at the box office 12 years ago, McQuarrie never expected to direct again.

"Believe me, I had put my foot down before and been shown the door," says the chatty but no-nonsense filmmaker. "I had been writing scripts for things; John Wilkes Booth, Kill Shot and The Tourist, which never went anywhere. So frankly, my attitude towards the process had become somewhat cynical. I really didn't expect anything to come of it.

"Besides, it (Reacher) was the kind of movie they didn't make anymore. It wasn't about transforming robots and it wasn't about superheroes. The marketplace had evolved from a grounded human protagonist with the exception of something like Bourne - but even Bourne has kind of a superpower."

Indeed, the film plays like the kind of legal or police procedural that was popular in the 1990s. Even the character of Reacher - a highly decorated and lethal ex-soldier turned mysterious military investigator - is now seen more on television shows such as The Mentalist or Sherlock.

"No one wants to roll the dice on that," he says. "And I never expected someone of Tom's standing would want to roll the dice on being in my second film in 12 years. But I think the success of Valkyrie (which McQuarrie wrote and Cruise starred in) helped. When they came to me to write a script, I said I'd only do it if I could direct. Amazingly, they agreed."

Though Cruise has the opposite physical characteristics to Reacher, who is described as 196cm with blonde hair in the books, McQuarrie had a very short list of actors who could pull off the role. Cruise was at the top of it.

"They gave me a list of about 25 actors and I immediately started eliminating people. There were ones I didn't want to work with and ones I thought couldn't do it. That list quickly dwindled to about five names."

While he admits Ben Affleck was high on the list, and probably Brad Pitt, McQuarrie says Cruise (who also produces) is perfect as the lethal, brilliant Reacher. Cruise himself described Reacher as, "an analog guy in a digital age, a sort of Dirty Harry, a James Bond, a Josey Wales".

"You really are spoilt on every level when you are working with him (Cruise). He is hard working, he's completely gracious and he elevates the work that you get from every other actor on the movie. And there is no prima donna behaviour. You say to 'be on set in five minutes' and he's there in four. He keeps everyone else on their best game. He loves making movies and he loves making it fun. He ruins you for everybody else."

McQuarrie bonded with Cruise over the muscle cars in the film, including a Camaro, a Mustang and the red Chevy Chevelle Reacher drives. The two have clearly formed a formidable filmmaking partnership. Besides Valkyrie and Jack Reacher, McQuarrie will write scripts for Cruise's upcoming films All You Need is Kill, Top Gun 2 and Mission Impossible 5 (which he is also rumoured to direct).

But first, they may just re-team for another Reacher movie. "We're one down for 17 books," McQuarrie laughs, "so we'll see how the first one performs. It's up to the audience now."

The West Australian

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