Bad Guy: *touches his gun*
Reacher: Hang on a second while I get a chair so that I may stand up on it and head-butt you.
If this scene exists in any of Lee Child’s 17 Jack Reacher novels, then congratulations, Jack Reacher film team… you’ve done well to cast Tom Cruise as Reacher.
The movie Jack Reacher opens today. I’m in France, where it won’t open for another week or so, but that’s irrelevant because I’m not going to go see it.
Before you dismiss me as a whiner harping on the height issue, let me just say that I know it’s hard for you movie-goers uninitiated to the Jack Reacher novels to comprehend the far-ranging negative reaction to this casting. I mean, with all of this brou-ha-ha over the casting, there must be something more to it, wouldn’t you think? So, I’m going to ask you this question to make it easier to understand (or at least to appreciate) the disbelief:
If you were looking forward to the making of a movie about the Vikings, the legendary drifting explorers and warriors of the north seas, would you want to see Tom Cruise cast in the lead Viking role?
Think about it. I mean, try to envision it. If you don’t know enough about the Vikings to form a mental image of Cruise as a Viking, then do some reading. Familiarize yourself. Get to know the subject matter. Get to know the Vikings.
Now tell me what you think.
Is Tom Cruise Viking material?
No? Okay, what if he was 6’ 5” tall and weighed 250 lbs – would he be Viking material then?
Still no? Why not? I thought the concern was his size, since that’s the obvious issue, but okay, let’s go further and imagine growing out and bleaching Tom Cruise’s perfectly styled, clean-cut, dark brown hair into a haphazard, dirty-blond un-style. Also, we’ll fit him with colored contacts to give him the icy blue eyes of the typical Viking.
Does that do it? Alright, then how about this: We’ll drag Tom Cruise face-down on a gravel path so his skin roughens up appropriately (I know what you were thinking… he’s “too pretty” to be convincing as a weather-worn, battle-scarred Viking who was never good-looking to begin with), and we’ll also give him a voice box transplant to replace his higher-pitched, bookish and slightly nasally voice with the deeper, quiet menace of the Viking’s voice – or at least what you’d imagine a Viking’s voice would sound like. Potentially thunderous, when needed, but not often needed. No need to talk much when you walk into a room and people instantly react to you because you’re, well, a Viking.
What? After all that modification, you’re still saying “Tom Cruise is not a Viking?” That makes no sense at all, people. This is TOM CRUISE. He’s a great actor with years of experience making mega-millions at the box-office, guaranteed to deliver a cinematic hit! Oh, ye of no faith. Tom Cruise may be small, but he has massive star power. He may not be Mr. Universe, but he can carry this movie and the whole franchise, to boot. Give Cruise and the movie a chance. You might be surprised. Do I need to remind you that he’s not just any movie star, but an action movie star? TOM CRUISE IS A VIKING.
Now, replace “Viking” with “Reacher” in all of the above, and this is exactly where you arrive. At best, you’re still going to be scratching your head, thinking about it. No amount of “Give him a chance… size isn’t everything” is going to change the fact that Tom Cruise is not Jack Reacher, because even if we do forget about his size, there’s still a lot wrong with Cruise in this role.
Here’s an example of a well-known Reacherism: Mobility. Reacher walks a lot. Walking is his favorite mode of transportation. He walks almost as much as he drinks coffee, and that’s a lot. Second on his list, he takes the bus. Third, he hitch-hikes. And fourth, he takes the train.
Although Reacher can and does appropriate and drive whatever vehicle suits his needs at any given moment, it’s been firmly established that Reacher is not a driver. He dislikes driving, and he’s never had a civilian driver’s license. This is why Reacher fans know immediately that something is off when the first sound in the movie trailer is the gunning of a V-8 engine with the supposition that Reacher is behind the wheel. From that second on, the Reacher fan is thinking, “Wait! I thought this was a movie about Jack Reacher….?” Jack Reacher is not a driver.
So why do we have a movie called “Jack Reacher” with Tom Cruise agilely maneuvering a sports car around using every flashy show-off trick in his action-flick auto repertoire? Looks like Tom Cruise being Tom Cruise the Action Hero under the name of Jack Reacher. OH SHIT – Jack Reacher has been hijacked!!
That was the first part of my multi-tiered reaction to the movie trailer.
I found the trailer by accident. It was a thrilling little moment of discovery: YES! There’s a Jack Reacher movie!! I eagerly clicked to open the trailer, and I was instantly confused. I couldn’t find Reacher. All I saw was Tom Cruise. Once I understood that Cruise was supposed to be Reacher, I couldn’t believe it and kept looking around for the real Jack Reacher. (“Will the real Jack Reacher please stand up?” HA.) I remember thinking, “Okay, uhh… I see Tom Cruise acting tough and trying to sound threatening with his little round voice and looking sharp with his perfect hair and preppy outfit, but where is Reacher? OH… SHIT TOM CRUISE IS SUPPOSED TO BE JACK REACHER??” The trailer wound down to an end, and the final assault materialized before my eyes: the movie title “JACK REACHER” glowing in blue letters on the screen. Not only does Tom Cruise play Jack Reacher, but the film itself is called Jack Reacher. I went on Facebook and dashed out something that ended with *headdesk.* It felt like my fingers were throwing up.
Jack Reacher has a certain combat style, the central criteria being a massive physical form. In his case, size is not mere window-dressing, decorative and changeable according to whim. If it was, then sure, festoon Tom Cruise with a bunch of ribbons and bows and call it a day. In book after book, Jack Reacher the Pain Inflictor (if I may call him that – I like the way it rhymes, it’s corny and it sums him up) incapacitates and destroys his opponents using moves that would be physically impossible for a shorter-than-average man to perform.
In the first Jack Reacher book I ever read, Reacher “snaps forward from the waist” and head-butts two guys, one after the other, laying them out flat. The guys are described as “each about six-two and around two hundred or two hundred and ten pounds. They had long knotted arms and big hands. Work boots on their feet.” (The Affair) Hours later, after they regained consciousness, “Both of them had noses like spoiled eggplants. Both of them had two black eyes. Both of them had crusted blood on their lips.”
Sorry, Tom Cruise. You are not going to convince anyone that you can damage two big goons in this manner. Even with elevator risers in your shoes, you are not going to stand there and head-butt two guys who are 7-8 inches taller than you. That arrogant smirk on your face isn’t going to add to your credibility, either. The Tom Cruise smirk doesn’t call to mind the expression of quizzical bemusement that’s another Reacherism. It’s not ominous. There’s no gravity behind it. It’s just… the Tom Cruise smirk.
In the end, this casting is simply unfair. It’s asking too much of a Reacher fan to try to reconcile the profile of Jack Reacher with Tom Cruise. We’re not a tough crowd to please. We’re not looking for the “perfect” Jack Reacher actor, because we know that there’s no such thing. It’s just that as loyal fans, we would feel respected if an honest attempt had been made to cast an actor who could be more believable as Reacher, an actor who could better embody the essence of and maybe even slightly resemble the Reacher that has been constructed for us on the written page. I think there’s something to be said for a good effort to preserve the integrity of an artistic creation.
Unfortunately, no honest attempt at an appropriate casting took place here. After years of expressed interest in Jack Reacher, Tom Cruise bought the rights to the book (One Shot) and went ahead and produced it and starred in it. Author Lee Child, who at one point said that Tom Cruise was “way too short to play Reacher,” has since tap-danced all over the table justifying (yes, he does have to justify it – he owes it to his baffled million+ fan base, without whom he would have nothing) his approval with flimsy assertions like “No one else could do it” (really?) and “Reacher is a metaphor” (simultaneously evading the issue and elevating his work to a higher level of prose than the pulp fiction that it actually is, excellent though it may be).
Of course we Reacher fans are feeling ripped off getting Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher. (Or, shall I say, Tom Cruise instead of Jack Reacher.) How great would it have been to be able to anticipate this film, as so many fiction fans do when their favorite books are being adapted to film? Harry Potter fans got an amazing cast for their literary obsession. Hunger Games fans’ heroine Katniss was done justice by the brilliant Jennifer Lawrence. Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean works, I think; in his elaborate stage make-up, he is Jack Sparrow when you look at him, not Johnny Depp. But Jack Reacher? All anyone will see when they look there is Tom Cruise. No attempt was made to adapt his appearance to fit that of Reacher. It’s Mr. Clean-Cut Risky Business-As-Usual Cruise showing up to play the part of a hulking, Viking-like character. It’s a colossal disappointment for Reacher fans. An actor who would actually make sense in the role could’ve taken it and run with it all the way through the franchise. Jack Reacher would have his own face – not Tom Cruise’s.
So that’s why I’m not going to buy a ticket when Jack Reacher gets to France. I have no desire to watch Tom Cruise play himself in another Tom Cruise action movie, when what I want is to watch an actor playing Reacher in a Jack Reacher movie.
If I want to see Tom Cruise, I’ll rent Tropic Thunder again, or Jerry Maguire. See? I’m not a Tom Cruise hater. I’m just a person who loves Jack Reacher.