I enjoy a good beach novel as much as the next person and about 10 or 12 years ago I started reading Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books. After reading 2 or 3 I was hooked and pretty quickly read through all of them with the exception of one book that many fans of the series agreed was the worst of the lot.
So by the time the Tom Cruise movie Jack Reacher came out in 2012, I was looking forward to it but also a bit confused by the casting. For those that haven’t read any of the books, Jack Reacher is a former Army brat who became the leader of a military police unit. When the books pick up, his military days are behind him and he spends his time traveling around the country by bus with no phone, no backpack and no permanent home. He has a pension and spends most of his time in various cheap motels, buying new clothes every few days and traveling light.
But, given that these are basically pulp adventure novels, everywhere Reacher goes he winds up stumbling on some gang of thieves and murderers and gradually, over the course of the book, he winds up taking them all down, usually single-handedly and with a lot of brutality.
And that’s where Reacher’s distinctive size and personality play a big part in the books. He’s described as being 6’5″ and about 250 pounds of muscle as well as being a highly trained fighter and expert with weapons. On top of that physical prowess, one of the books describes him as having an unusual psychological profile that makes him prone to leap toward danger rather than away from it.
As a character for a novel it’s a good set up. He stumbles upon a cabal of villains in some small, isolated town and the bad guys send a crew of 3 or 4 people to deal with him, sometimes more than once. All of them end up with lots of broken bones and long-term injuries. And in the process, Reacher gets more angry and determined to bust up the ring that has unwisely decided to mess with him. Basically, if you took Sherlock Holmes put him in the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger and had him walk the earth like Caine in Kung Fu you’d have Jack Reacher.
So getting back to that 2012 Jack Reacher movie, you can probably see how that movie fit the books in some ways but how Tom Cruise didn’t quite fit the depiction of Reacher in the novels. I actually like that first film quite a bit. I’ve seen it 3 or 4 times and it’s well made. Cruise may not fit the bill physically but he’s a good actor and he captured some of the spirit of Jack Reacher. There’s a scene in that movie where the villain calls him to set up an ambush and Cruise as Reacher just hangs up the phone. And then he gets really angry and tells the villain he’s going to kill him and drink his blood from a boot. That’s Jack Reacher in a nutshell. Not unlike the Hulk, you piss him off at your peril.
Despite the good performance, a lot of longtime fans couldn’t get used to Cruise as Reacher and I think I read somewhere that even author Lee Child admitted it was a stretch. But this week, Prime is launching a new series called “Reacher” with the first season based on the first book. Lee Child is involved in the production and this time around they cast massive 6′ 3″ actor Alan Ritchson in the lead role.
“I know a lot of people had their thoughts on the movies,” said Nick Santora, the series’s showrunner. “When I sat down with the studio, we just started talking about Reacher’s epic and mythical size. It was always a conversation that he would be big — we needed to find an actor that fits the books.”
Enter Alan Ritchson, a 6-foot-3 actor with biceps the size of Serrano hams, fresh from three seasons of playing the crime-fighting Hawk on the “Titans” series. [Author Lee] Child was impressed.
“Before I was a writer, I worked nearly 20 years in television, so I know what goes on,” Child said in a recent video call. As the production advanced, he could see that “it was turning out better than I could dream.”
I watched the first episode last night and I can tell you that, so far, they’ve got it right. If you’re not a fan of the books or of this genre it won’t be for you, but so far Reacher really captures the feel of the books. In one scene early on, some creep is threatening his terrified girlfriend and Reacher just turns and looks at him. For a moment the guy mouths off and Ritchson as Reacher doesn’t move, doesn’t speak. He just keeps staring at the guy. And after looking Reacher over the creep apologizes and promises it won’t happen again. That’s what the books are like. Reacher is a “catalyst character.” Wherever he goes, things change and people change because he doesn’t leave them any choice.
If you haven’t read the books but like this kind of thing, give Reacher a try. It’s not high-brow entertainment by any stretch of the imagination but it is entertaining.
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