When Lee Child came to last year’s West Virginia Book Festival, the news was still pretty fresh that Tom Cruise had signed up to play Jack Reacher, the protagonist in Child’s long-running series, in a movie based on the novel “One Shot.” Since then, the film’s title has been changed to just “Jack Reacher.” Filmed in Pittsburgh, it premieres in that city on Dec. 15, then goes into wide release on Dec. 21.
Reacher is a former military policeman who, after leaving the Army, has lived as a drifter, moving around with not much more than the clothes on his back. He’s also a physical specimen: six foot five, as much as 250 pounds, with blond hair and blue eyes. None of these physical characteristics applies to Cruise; he’s five foot seven, with brown hair and green eyes (at least, that’s what the Internet tells me, so it must be true).
For those reasons, many of Child’s readers were less than thrilled with the choice of Cruise to portray Reacher. A couple of people managed to bring this up, tactfully, to Child at the Book Festival. He didn’t seem bothered about it; he spoke glowingly about Cruise, and said he was confident that Cruise could play the part.
Of course he did. What else is he going to say? Tom Cruise is all wrong for Jack Reacher? He’d be sabotaging the movie (to some degree, anyway), and that holds no benefit for him. The only author I remember taking that tack — just savagely attacking the choice to play one of her characters in a movie — is Anne Rice, who went ballistic when it was announced that her “Interview with the Vampire” antihero Lestat was going to be played by — wait for it — Tom Cruise. (She changed her tune after the movie came out, for whatever reason.) So of course, the author isn’t going to bash the actor who’s playing the character, even if the actor is totally unsuitable.
These were some of my (unvoiced) thoughts during last year’s Book Festival. Since then, I’ve come around a little.
Child insists that there’s much more to Jack Reacher than just his size. This is true, of course. In fact, for a character whose physical presence is so overpowering, descriptions of Reacher are pretty rare in the books. As Child told The New York Times in advance of the movie’s premiere: “There’s also the menace, the intelligence, the silent, contemplative nature.” For his part, Cruise said, “The height, the size — those are characteristics, not a character.”
Cruise wouldn’t be the first actor to take a character and remake it in his image. Humphrey Bogart, as noted before on this blog, doesn’t look anything like how Dashiell Hammett described his private eye Sam Spade — but after seeing “The Maltese Falcon,” it’s very hard to read the book and not see Bogie in your mind’s eye. Also, Sean Connery was certainly more suave and debonair as James Bond than anything Ian Fleming ever put on the page.
And yet … I’m still not sure I’m buying it. If you ask Jack Reacher fans to describe him, words like “big” and “powerful” and “intimidating” are going to come up pretty quick. No matter how good an actor Cruise is, I’m having a hard time seeing how he pulls that off.
I do know one thing: Jack Reacher is a character whose fans have waited nearly two decades to see him on the big screen. I hope he gets the portrayal he deserves.