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The memory of Jack Reacher forever tainted by Tom Cruise.

November 16, 2011

I'm a vigilante hell-bent on justice for the little man.

Shooting is currently underway in Pittsburg on Lee Child’s bestselling novel One Shot, famously starring the underwhelming Tom Cruise. Much has already been said on the web about his unsuitability for the role of Jack Reacher, a hulking, peripatetic vigilante ex-Marine investigator in his late 30s, who roams about contemporary USA looking for damsels in distress and persecuted small towns or falsely accused ex-marines to rescue. Reacher owns nothing except a folding toothbrush (one does worry about his body odour!) and buys cheap clothes rather than waste money washing them. (Having stayed in US hotels I can see the wisdom in this – hotel laundry costs are exorbitant.) Reacher is also minimalistic, silent, effortlessly cool and utterly heroic. In every book you know he’s going to survive, and the baddies won’t.

This comfortable narrative predictability does not mean that Child is a poor writer. He knows his stuff and the Reacher novels flow professionally and effortlessly, like they were constructed with the screen adaptation in mind (Child used to write for the BBC), to an always-exciting conclusion. This is why the Reacher novels have been so eagerly awaited as films; why the books are always found atop bestseller lists. When I attended a Lee Child book signing in San Francisco in 2007, the majority of the audience were women (unlike many other action series’ I imagine) – so Reacher is confident of a devoted female fanbase. At that signing I recall Child laughingly stating that no actor has yet been born who can play Jack Reacher (and height was definitely an issue for him then). Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but allowing the frankly weird and on-his-way-out, middle aged Tom Cruise to play this beloved and iconic figure has unleashed a good deal of fan unhappiness and general incredulity (and Reacher fans are devoted, like serious, grown-up Twihards).

Reacher was known to frighten the local townspeople.

Just what is it about Tom Cruise that incites such loathing? He is physically and, more importantly, character-wise totally unsuitable for Reacher, yet it is not only about his size, or even his age. Cruise is a small, kinetic actor. Reacher is slow, relentless and eternal – to my mind more of an immovable object more than the  ‘unstoppable force’ which he has been termed (by Child himself): “Reacher’s size in the books is a metaphor for an unstoppable force, which Cruise portrays in his own way.” Whatever. Child is entitled to sell the rights to his novel, and has to be seen to support the casting. In Cruise’s words, “This is Lee’s book and Lee’s character. Him giving me his blessing is what made me do it. If he hadn’t then I wouldn’t have done it.” (Empire, October 2011) I will tell you one thing, I bet Child is rolling about laughing in secret at this fiasco. But, cynicism aside, he must be invested in his character, and it must grate to see an arrogant, flaky pipsqueak interpreting Reacher’s first onscreen outing. The film is already controversial but as an action star with a laughable public persona, Cruise is no longer a sure bet, the likely success of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol notwithstanding. If One Shot is bad or poorly supported, it could turn away future (and present) fans of the book series. (I know I can hardly bring myself to read the latest one, The Affair, with Cruise still looming in my mind’s eye.)

I am the Unstoppable Force!

Why are so-called ‘safe’ action stars like Cruise endlessly trotted out in not-B-movie action films? I know that Jeremy Renner is going to take over from Cruise in the next Mission Impossible installment (!), but I feel sure that Cruise is Reacher because, apart from his clout and power in the production company that bought the rights to the film, he is still seen and imagined as an action star. This uninspring and predictable casting that one sees so often in Hollywood makes me furious and worried at the same time. Where are the new stars? Are they not being born anymore? Garrett Hedlund was unconvincing, cocky and slight in Tron. Henry Cavill is still kinda forgettable and bland from what I’ve seen in the new Immortals movie and the (Superman) Man of Steel stills. Daniel Craig is getting on (and also curiously bland) as James Bond. Colin Farrell’s alright, but a bit sleazy/quirky for a mainstream action star. Speaking of bland, Avatar’s Sam Worthington suffers the same fate (physically he would be ok as Reacher other than a bit too cute).

And let’s not even get me started on the women. Apart from Milla Jovovitch and the zombies, Summer Glau on TV, Saoirse Ronan in the excellent Hannah, and then-11 year old Chloe Moretz in Kick Ass I’m in despair. Both Angelina Jolie and Zoe Saldana (Columbiana) are too thin to convince anyone they can hold a weapon, let alone their own body weight. The equally unmuscular Kate Beckinsale is sexy in a mediocre way in the Underworld series – but action heroine? No way.

Is there an actor alive who can play Reacher?

Pentikett as Karl 'Helo' Agathon in Battlestar Galactica.

After seeing Battlestar Galactica and Dollhouse I have favoured the sci fi action regular, Canadian actor Tahmoh Pentikett (in 2010’s Riverworld). He is tall, hulking and born for action (i.e. the strong and silent type). In real life he is a martial arts expert and always plays a soft-cored but tough and protective hero so emotionally he ‘feels’ right. My mother thinks he’s too dumb-looking for Reacher (who is mentally sharp) but he could work on that. Physically he’s perfect: maybe a bit young and muscley. But his face is spot-on. Pentikett is beginning to make his action mark on the big screen. I see he has a role in the upcoming Man of Steel.

Statham: Reacher intimidated the other inmates with his six-pack.

A friend (and others on the net) favours Jason Statham for Reacher but he’s a too bald and gangster-English in my view, apart from possibly looking the part from the neck down. On the whole I think action star Statham is just Too mean-looking, as well as aggressively muscular (Reacher is described as being like a wall, which is not the same thing at all). One doesn’t want Reacher to look like a seedy criminal even if the police in every town he enters think he is a jailbird or vagrant. Reacher is an archetypal American heroic figure. The British Child has created Reacher drawing from representations of the lone vigilante/man-with-no-name figure throughout US popular culture and history, appearing in Westerns through to Kung Fu films. It’s a very deliberate and efficient study and works well on the page and potentially on the screen. But as I have said, it is not a characterisation that fits Tom Cruise well.This is why fans are upset. It’s about visualisation, emotional investment and the fulfillment of our fantasies.

So, in the meantime, here we sit, stuck with this:

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15 Comments
  1. Helen permalink

    I definitely don’t want to pay money to watch this movie – only see it when it comes on TV. I can’t believe that TC was chosen, not because of his height but, even though he is a talented actor, he’s just not right. I think an unknown new actor with Reacher’s build, looks (as the books do describe Reacher in great detail). I’ve read every book so I have a picture of him. I don’t expect an actor who looks like my picture in my head but at least someone less Tom Cruisey and more ex-military-quiet type, rugged kind of guy. I will always be a loyal Reacher fan but only of the books.

  2. OutragedReacherFan permalink

    You have got to be kidding me , Tom “pipsqueak” cruise as Jack Reacher , How can a midget play a man mountain? How the hell did that happen, the jerk should be playin a hobbit instead….

    • well, my feelings on Tom Cruise as R are clear. I don’t think I could even see One Shot for laughs. And the worst thing is, I read The Affair recently and had to fight against picturing him! So he’s ruined the books for me too and I havent even seen the film yet!

      • Helen permalink

        I wish I’d never seen the advert because I too will picture TC when I read any further Reacher books. What a shame, I think it’s ruined it for me:(

  3. pallasathena1 permalink

    I’ve always fancied Sean Bean, as u well know. I dont know how tall he is, but there is something about him (apparentlly he does have a military background) and god knows has appeared in enough SAS films) which resonates with Reacher. All he needs is a military haircut, not the wigs they insist of giving him (Game of Thrones), and his natural toughness will do the rest. Anyway thats just me

  4. Anonymous permalink

    The dude that plays the guy in “person of interest” would do well

  5. I’m an Avid reacher fan ( just finished Gone Tomorrow and have read all the others in order ), and I have to say I was so so sad when Cruise was cast. He is probably the worst choice anyone could have made. Anybody that knows Reacher knows he’s a hulk of a man, and if he’d been a few years younger, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think someone like Stallone would have been more suitable. ( or maybe dare I say Dwayne Johnson ), someone of that stature ( although maybe someone with a little more acting prowess wouldn’t go amiss ). The early Cruise films were ok, my fave being The Firm, still probably one of Cruise’s best. But after the 1st Mission Impossible film, all his films have become a Cruise ” Look At Me I’m An Action Hero ” Fest. Whilst as you say, I’m sure Ghost Protocol will be a resounding success, it’s less about the plot and story, as it is about the stunts Cruise can do. I won’t be rushing to see it that’s for sure.

    I’ll probably get round to seeing One Shot at some point, more out of curiosity than anything else, but I think they should have started closer to the beginning of the series, or maybe even with The Enemy.

    • My favourite book in the series was The Enemy, although the new one looks v good too. I must say I cannot imagine Dwayne Johnson – for the reason he’s kinda comic and dumb-looking. I actually like Tom Cruise as an actor – in more alternative stuff like Vanilla Sky or Magnolia. Or even as a comedy actor. But, yes, as Reacher he is possibly the worse choice they could have made – mainly due to his public personality! I will find it hard to suspend my disbelief.

  6. neil, I’m strictly a roast potato gal I’m afraid 🙂
    and yes, I’m sure I will go and see One Shot. It was, after all, one of my favourites! And I think that blogs serve the purpose of letting of steam ie complaining. Because lets face it, few people in our daily lives are interested in the kinds of dicussions one has with other fans online.

  7. Neil Ruff permalink

    Starsh – I’ve posted a lot on this topic over on Lee Child’s forum (where you’ve left a link to this blog). I’ll be honest, I had the same reaction as a lot of people when I first heard about Tom Cruise being cast, because like the other people who have an issue with it, I’ve read all the books, and I had my own defined idea of the sort of actor who could mentally & physically portray Jack Reacher.

    One urge I never had, though, was to blame Lee Child for this ‘mis-casting’ as many others did. It wasn’t too hard to discover that the options for 3 of Child’s books were signed off over 6 years ago, and the choice of lead man was not locked in to the deal. Child has stated before now that he would leave the movies to movie people, and stick to writing (incidentally, to the best of my knowledge, he didn’t write for the BBC – rather, he was a presentation director for Granada TV. He didn’t oversee production of any kind, and wasn’t involved in the creative process – in actual fact, his first piece of creative writing was ‘Killing Floor’, the first Reacher novel). I’m digressing slightly, only for the fact that you use the phrase ‘allowing…Tom Cruise to play..(Reacher)” in a paragraph otherwise discussing Child’s part in this process – I don’t think this was the case.

    People will be cynical (and bordering on vicious) around that specific point, but I think most people who have an idea of how long the process takes to turn a book into a movie – with multiple writers, screenplays, directors, producers, actors etc often being involved over several years – understand that it’s very unlikely that any author would ever be in a position to sign off on anything resembling a finished product with a pre-determined lead actor.

    Going back to Cruise – I think the key thing here is to acknowledge that he won’t be playing the Reacher in the books…in the same way as neither Connery, Moore, Craig et al have played the James Bond of the novels. You actually couldn’t make a Bond movie like the Moore-era, these days, anyhow – we are post-Bourne, hence we have Craig’s hardman, rather than the campness of that earlier incarnation.

    Sure, Cruise has made a few ‘unusual’ public gaffs; sure, he’s played some quirky & kinetic characters; 6’5″ & 250 lbs he most definitely isn’t – BUT – he’s still an Academy Award-nominated, and Golden Globe winning, actor. I expect his Reacher to be closer to Ethan Hunt than Jerry Maguire. He’s done the brooding hit-man in Collateral. He’s more than survived his fair share of fist-fights in M:I…

    And, of the 10 films he made between 2002-2009 made over $100 million at the box office. To suggest that he’s ‘on his way out’ doesn’t bear any factual scrutiny.

    I’m with you in the middle paragraphs – where are the ‘new’ movie stars? I think maybe the movie climate that gave us the likes of Cruise in the first place, has changed.

    Could the movie producers have found someone who more closely resembles the written Reacher – of course. But you would not be able to launch a franchise off the back of an unknown, without a box office guarantee, and without the scale & budget that Cruise’s involvement brings.

    So you’re essentially correct – we are ‘stuck’ with Tom.

    And I’m prepared to give Tom a good go at it.

    I didn’t give him a second thought while I read ‘The Affair’, and to be honest, I think you’re making that point for the sake if it – it really shouldn’t be an effort to read a book and become invested in that descriptive world. The vague idea of what Tom Cruise’s Reacher might be like shouldn’t be able to spoil it for you.

    Similarly, I believe it will be possible to enjoy ‘One Shot’ as a movie, without making too much reference to the Reacher of the books. We know it’s going to have to be different in certain ways, but if you’re in that movie theatre, properly suspending your disbelief (and you’ll already be doing it to a degree, because, let’s be honest, these stories are already far-fetched – that’s what we enjoy, after all), then it should be possible to forget what may simply be little more than a size discrepancy.

    Like almost every other instance of this, I think people will say ‘I enjoyed the film, but it wasn’t as good as the book’. I really believe it will still be possible to enjoy the film. Maybe enough that more are made. Maybe enough that some are made with different lead actors (a la Bond)…

    It’s all about escapism in the end. Should we really worry that an actor playing an imaginary character is skewed from our own idea of that imaginary character; or that my idea of who should play Reacher is different from yours? Or Lee Childs?

    Entertainment is a shallow medium – we all need to try to be a little less shallow…

    Neil

    • Points well made Neil. I guess it’s hard to be objective when one is emotionally invested as so many people seem to be in this issue. And mixing up Lee’s bio is unforgivable. Blame it on the tendency of foreigners to conflate Granada with BBC! 🙂 I don’t however feel that my feelings are either shallow or that points are being made for the sake of it. I really am battling with losing one image and embracing another. Just the way my mind works I suppose. I don’t even really see entertainment as a shallow medium. Sad or not, it is one of the most important facets of my life.

      • Neil Ruff permalink

        In retrospect, some of my earlier response does re-read as somewhat harsh! Hardly fair of me to point out that entertainment is a shallow medium, while at the same time participating in the forums & your blog, defending the casting! That’s me not being objective. And entertainment is one of the most important facets of my life too…

        I guess I’m fuelling this with the optimism that I’ll continue to be able to read the books after seeing the movie, without whatever Cruise does casting a shadow over it. Likewise, I really hope I enjoy the movie – but I realise that I’ll go into it knowing that it will have to differ enormously from the image I have – almost as if the only similarity will be the name of the movie, and the name of the characters. It may bear no resemblance to Lee’s writing, let alone Lee’s Reacher. This will be, and has to be, Cruise & McQuarrie’s Reacher. Mashed potatoes & roast potatoes – different, but still potatoes at the end of the day! I hope to enjoy both, probably for different reasons. I’m 50/50 when it comes to Cruise too – so my first thought isn’t that he’d be bad in the role…just a little shorter than desired, but on a good day, he has the ability to hold my attention on screen.

        So many people have been quick to criticise Lee Child over all of this – many of them can’t string a sentence together, so I’m not surprised that some can’t separate the idea of a book and a film being potentially very different, or grasp that an author may not have a final say in anything to do with it.

        We’ve all hoped for so long that a movie would get made, that the smallest change we don’t like the sound of will get blown out of all proportion, let alone something as fundamental as the casting decision. I also try to bear in mind that the forums about Reacher/Lee Child are full of ‘reading’ people (if I may pigeonhole), not ‘movie’ people. I suspect there are many more shades of grey out there than the black/white opinions that fill the forums – people who really don’t mind either way – but I also think it’s human nature to want to rant about something we don’t like, rather than our first thought being to praise something we do. I include myself in this, albeit to rant in defense – I still come out shouting, rather than choosing to let it lie.

        This does mean that forums and blogs tend towards the ‘complaining/defending’ positions, and don’t really represent a balanced view of all the consumers of a particular medium.

        For example, in the office where I work (700 people) we have a comments book in the staff restaurant. Each day, several complaints get made, which are often ‘countered’ by the chef.
        You almost never see a comment from the hundreds of people who enjoyed their food, or didn’t feel strongly either way.

        Generally, I’d like to be the guy who is trying to enjoy either the mashed or roast potatoes – without pining for one, while I consume the other!

        I hope you can still enjoy The Affair without the thought of Tom Cruise tainting it – and I also hope you’ll be prepared to see how he does in ‘One Shot’…

        Cheers,
        Neil

  8. “The worst thing we can say is that casting Cruise as Child’s 6′4″ brooding bruiser sadly renders Reacher’s name a self-fulfilling prophecy.” hehe. (http://www.wordandfilm.com/2011/06/tom-cruise-and-christopher-mcquarrie-take-aim-at-lee-childs-one-shot/comment-page-5/)

  9. Yesss. Curiosity may win, much as I hate to support things I hate 🙂

  10. elanavisagie permalink

    “Reacher was known to frighten the local townspeople.”:-D Haven’t laughed so much in quite a while! And, you’ve convinced me, Statham would also not do.

    Still in 2 minds to watch it or miss it when it comes out!

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