Jack Reacher’s Other Man of Menace: Werner Herzog, The Villain…

Werner Herzog Grizzly ManWhen Tom Cruise turns the silver screen red and black in December with his bruising portrayal of Jack Reacher, —adding to his badass roles in the Mission: Impossible series, Collateral and The Last Samurai—he will not be the only man wreaking havoc on screen. ‘The Zek’, a former prisoner of war, and the evil counterpart to Reacher’s man of rough justice, will impact the screen with his own brand of bad. And bringing him to life. will be none other than the highly respected German director/actor and jack-of-all-trades, Werner Herzog.

Werner Herzog FitzcarraldoHerzog may be unfamiliar to many of you. His widest acclaim comes as a writer and director of films and documentaries, but he also directs opera and theatre, writes books, runs the Rogue Film School, which according to the literature “is not for the faint-hearted,” and, yes, acts, although sporadically. When he does, he finds he’s adept at capturing menacing personalities. He told Movieline last year, “I’m fairly good as a actor when it comes to roles of hostile or dangerous guys, or violent or debased or dysfunctional characters.” Sorry for the spoiler. Let’s hope he lives up to that claim.

Born Munich, Germany, in 1942, Herzog made his first film at 19. Since that time he has directed more than 60 films and documentaries. He won the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1982 (Fitzcarraldo) and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2008 (Encounters at the End of the World). He’s known for using non-actors and even locals to populate his films, which he feels lends to the “ecstatic truth” of his work.

Grizzly Man Trailer
Despite an outcome that’s pre-ordained, Herzog keeps this documentary about a man living with grizzlies compelling to the bitter end.

During the course of his long career, he has filmed on all seven continents, making films about African herdsman, cave drawings in France, and inmates on death row. Given the diversity of his filmography, the exotic locations in which many of his movies take place, and the often unconventional subject matter, working with available resources becomes a valuable art.

Of his fictional films, the three most likely to be recognized by American audiences are Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972), Fitzcarraldo (1982) and Rescue Dawn (2007). Perhaps his most well-known work is the documentary Grizzly Man (2005), which tells the story of Timothy Treadwell and his ill-fated relationship with grizzlies in Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve. Much of his best work focuses on characters with a monomaniacal determination to accomplish a usually hugely difficult task or complete a life-saving—or ending— journey.

Fitzcarraldo Trailer
In this jungle epic, Fitzcarraldo (Klaus Kinski) is trying to locate an inaccessible parcel of rubber trees to help pay for an opera house he hopes to build in the Amazon. The making of the movie was itself an ordeal and was captured on film in the documentary Burden of Dreams.

When he plays The Zek in Jack Reacher, be prepared to see him put his own spin on a wickedly determined criminal fighting to put Reacher in his place—a task about as easy to accomplish as building an opera house in the middle of the Amazon.

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