From the trailers it seems as if Jack Reacher is being touted as the next James Bond, or considering that Bond probably isn’t going anywhere for a while, at least a rival to James Bond. Lots of exposition setting up what an elusive and dangerous character Reacher is, a “don’t play by the rules” attitude combined with a strong sense of patriotism. Not having read Lee Child’s books I could be swinging in completely the wrong ballpark here, but that’s not the real story anyway, is it? Oh no, the real story of Jack Reacher, the only reason you simply need to see it, comes about half way through the trailer when a calm, considered, yet maniacal German accent whispers: “Get the lawyer.”...is it...no...surely not...fuck me. It’s Werner Fucking Herzog and he’s here to save the Hollywood action film. This is not a drill folks. Herzog and Cruise, together at last.
There is absolutely no reason to be surprised by Werner Herzog appearing in this movie, or indeed any movie, or even in your local launderette washing a load of whites. In fact, if Werner Herzog arrived at my door now wearing a One Direction t-shirt I’d hardly be shocked. Herzog has made a career out of defying categorisation. Emerging in the late 60s/early 70s at the same time as fellow German filmmakers Wim Wenders and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the three were labelled the forerunners of “New German Cinema.” Prior to this, German cinema was intrinsically linked with the Nazis, with much of it state controlled up until the war.
Even after the war, the most popular genre in German cinema was the “Heimatfilm”, Heimat meaning “Homeland.” These films focussed on the beauty of the outdoors, usually set in the mountains, and promoted a Germanic pride that wasn’t too dissimilar to that which Hitler was keen on too – where was his bunker, after all? If you think this is a good place to start when looking at Herzog’s work, then it’s probably best to note that he distances himself from the label and this movement, saying that his films have little in common with Wenders or Fassbinder. In fact, whereas Wenders and Fassbinder are revered in Germany, Herzog has never achieved the same level of praise, particularly from the press.
Then there’s the association Herzog has with the idea of “art cinema”, which to my mind is a term so broad that in truth it means fuck all, but hey. It seems to me that nowadays “art” is just a byword for intellectual elitism, perhaps it always has been. Anyway, Herzog has no time for this, passionately and accurately stating that cinema came from carnivals, not classrooms, and that if it is art, then it is the art of the illiterates. He has also on more than one occasion professed to have always made “mainstream” films. You can see why categorising him becomes tricky at this point.
Herzog’s sheer brilliance comes from this diversity. Look through his back catalogue and you’ll find beautiful, meditative, essayistic films like Fata Morgana alongside brash, genre flicks like the recent Bad Lieutenant and My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? You’ll find death-defying feats of cinema like the spectacular Fitzcarraldo, which saw Herzog and his crew drag a ship over an Amazonian mountain, as well as the short La Soufriere which saw Herzog scale a volcano that was said to be on the brink of eruption, alongside a sweet kids short like No One Will Play With Me, about a boy who befriends a crow.
He’s brought us hypnotised chickens, rebellious dwarves, suicidal penguins and invisible bears in some of the finest films ever committed to the screen. Predicting what Herzog does next would be folly, but he seldom does something dull, which is why Jack Reacher will be worth shelling out for. Let’s just hope he doesn’t stray from behind the camera for too long, eh?