Ten years ago, I’d never heard of Jack Reacher. The first time I read that name was on Facebook in 2012. A friend had posted about the new Tom Cruise movie being released, and other people talked about it like they knew something I did not. That’s not surprising—there is a lot I don’t know, especially when it comes to popular culture. There were several conclusions I drew from the reactions to the post, but the first one was that Tom Cruise was the absolute wrong guy to be cast as Jack Reacher. Too short. Too old. Too little. Of course, I found out later that Cruise was one of eleven producers of the film, and cast himself as Jack Reacher—I’d have done the same thing. When you know that no one else in the world will do as good a job as you, you take the job and you work around the obvious.
A few questions of my friends filled me in on the book series. Lee Child is the author. It is a pseudonym. His real name is James Grant, born and raised in England, and he spent twenty years or so writing and directing television commercials and other shows on a British television network. In his spare time, he wrote stories, mostly about a man who retired from the United States army and who went around helping people out of a jam. It was a hobby for him, and for a long time he may have dreamed of becoming a writer of popular novels, but never thought it would be a reality. In the mid-90’s, as television began to change, Grant saw the handwriting on the wall, and began making his plans to earn a living in some other way. His friends and co-workers had told him for years that his writing was as good as any author they’d read, and now he would test the waters and find out. Turns out, they were right.
Jack Reacher is not much different than any other reluctant hero. Jack Bauer, Jack Ryan, hey, why are all the badass heroes named Jack?? Anyway, he’s a rugged individualist, content to walk around the country and help people out. He is huge—6’5” tall and 285 pounds. I read the first book, and it quickly became apparent why Tom Cruise was the wrong person for the role, at least physically. I’m not sure how many of the twenty-five books published about Jack Reacher. Call it ”several.” I stopped because all the stories were the same.
I saw the movie, released in 2012, and had to force myself to ignore Tom Cruise’s small stature. It didn’t take long. He is good. Great, in fact. One of the best actors ever. And he did a great job playing Jack Reacher. So what if he’s tiny? Some of the lines were delivered perfectly by Cruise. When a bad guy is complaining that his finger hurts because Reacher has control of the gun he’d been holding, Reacher calmly says, ”well, then you shouldn’t play with guns.” Every sarcastic line Reacher says is delivered perfectly by Cruise. Reacher makes lists all the time. ”There are four reasons why men join the army.” Or, ”there are three things cops never do. They don’t vote Democrat, they don’t drive Cadillacs, and they never use personal vehicles.” Tom Cruise delivers these lines perfectly, and other than his size, made the perfect Jack Reacher.
Imagine my excitement when I discovered that a new Reacher television series was being released. Tom Cruise is out, replaced by Alan Ritchson, a 38 year old actor who is the son of a high school teacher and an Air Force master sergeant. He has been in several films and TV shows, none of which I have seen. He isn’t 6’5”, but he’s close—6’2”, and although I’m no movie director, it’s got to be easier to make six-two look like six-five than it is to make five-seven look like six-five. In fact, neither of the Reacher movies starring Cruise focused on Reacher’s size. They didn’t even bother. If you’re a purist, this bothers you (and if you’re a Reacher fan, you saw what I just did). In the books, his size is always part of the story. People notice him. In the films, women notice him because he’s handsome, not because he’s huge. The series, which was released February 4, has eight episodes, each roughly an hour long. Lisa and I binge-watched it over two days.
So which is better, the films or the TV series?
As far as acting is concerned, the films win. Tom Cruise is just plain better as an actor than Alan Ritchson. Ritchson isn’t a bad actor. He delivers Reacher dialogue like I expected him to, but lacks the rhythm that Cruise has, as well as the facial expressions. Ritchson did a good job, in fact, he read every single one of Lee Child’s Reacher books before filming began. He studied the character and knew it as well as anyone. But there’s only so much you can do.
When considering the storyline, the series wins. The first film did not claim to be based on any particular one of the books. It was just an amalgam of all the stories. Seriously, how many ways is there to tell the same story twenty-five times? The series starts right off the bat telling viewers that it is based on the first in the Reacher series, ”Killing Floor.” Unlike many Hollywood productions, this one was very true to the book.
The cast of the film was probably better, and not just because of Cruise. Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog, and Rosamund Pike are all Oscar-nominated actors, and of course, Robert Duvall is an Oscar winner. The series had exactly zero actors that I’d ever heard of. That doesn’t matter, they were all good and delivered their roles in a convincing manner.
So which is better? I’ll give the series the win—true to the story line. True to the characters. Better able to hash out the stories and the characters over eight hours than one can do in ninety minutes.
Watch it on Amazon Prime. Or better yet, read the books.