I’ve read a lot of great literature in my time.
I say that to preface the fact that I’ve also read a lot of Lee Child in my time.
There are occasions where I simply need to get a fix of good old blockbuster action, from predictable characters who I adore and who I know won’t let me down.
Lee Child’s outstanding Jack Reacher character has rarely let me down.
No matter where this hitchhiking, nomadic ex-military police major finds himself – he finds himself in trouble. Or helping somebody else get out of trouble.
“Reacher smiled. He had been raised on military bases all around the world, battling hardcore Marine progeny, honing his skills against gangs of resentful native youths in dusty Pacific streets and damp European alleys. Whatever hardscrabble town in Texas or Arkansas or Nebraska these guys had come up in had been a feather bed by comparison. And while they had been studying the playbook and learning to run and jump and catch, he had been broken down and built back up by the kind of experts who could snap your neck so fast you never knew it had happened until you went to nod your head and it rolled away down the street without you.” [Worth Dying For, Lee Child 2010]
Reacher always gets his girl.
Reacher always wins the fight.
And Reacher always puts a smile on my face.
I’ve spoken to other female fans of Reacher, and despite the predictability and far-fetched nature of the Jack Reacher genre (now with 17 books published), we enjoy Reacher. Because we’ve got a crush on him.
I’ll tell you who I don’t have a crush on.
I’m not the first to write and vent that the casting of Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher was a terrible decision. And I wasn’t going to write about this at all. But I simply have to get a few things off my chest about why Cruise is so wrong. So stick with me here.
Lee Child himself has had to come out and defend the choice of Cruise. He’s had friends like Michael Connelly (another great author, creator of Harry Bosch who I adore) come out and defend the casting of Cruise (albeit rather weakly). But their arguments have not swayed me.
The ongoing angst and anger from fans (which I’ve followed on Facebook and Twitter) hasn’t dissipated. Ever since Cruise was announced as the star, fans have vented. For almost any story that is posted on author Lee Child’s Facebook page there will be comments rallying against Cruise. (An ongoing nightmare for the page admins, no doubt).
Cruise is so wrong for the role that this forthcoming movie simply isn’t a Reacher movie, to me. (Also… what’s with calling the movie Jack Reacher? It’s like calling an Ian Fleming movie James Bond).
“Reacher is 6′ 5″ tall (1.96m) with a 50-inch chest, and weighing between 210 and 250 pounds (100–115 kg). He has ice-blue eyes and dirty blond hair” from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_reacher
Yes, it’s a size thing. And it’s a voice thing. It’s also a menace thing. I don’t care how experienced and how absolutely dedicated to the role Tom Cruise is, he doesn’t have any of the necessary Reacher elements.
One Facebook comment I read last year (defending Cruise) went something like this: If the Jack Reacher character revolves around his height so much, then he’s not a very good character. If that’s all he is, he’s not worth fussing over.
I beg to differ.
To borrow a cliché, size does matter.
Your size – your physical appearance – has a bearing on your life, and ergo on your character and motivations and what happens to you in life. It’s not everything but – let me emphasise – it does indeed matter.
My 13 year old son knows that size matters.
He’s a big lad. He’s the tallest child at his school. He’s taller than most of the teachers.
When teachers want something lifted and moved at the school, they ask my son to help them.
When people meet him and learn his age, they say “you’re big!”
When family catch up with him, they say “wow, you’re still growing”.
When he visits the orthodontist, the orthodontist remarks on how his legs are nearly too long for the chair.
When strangers meet him they want to know if he plays basketball or AFL. Because that’s what you do when you’re big, right?
Heck, I’ve posted many status updates and photos relating to his size.
Let me leap back to Reacher.
When Reacher walks into a room, people look him up and down and consider his size and threat potential. They start to make judgements about his character. That effects the storyline.
When he’s about to be arrested or confronted, there’s a team of amped-up and anxious men surrounding him. They expect trouble. That effects the storyline.
When someone is in danger, they feel confident that Reacher may be able to help. They want to confide in him. They want to hide behind him. That effects the storyline.
Sometimes Reacher wants to stay out of trouble. He wants to put his fold-up toothbrush in his back pocket and leave town. But because he’s big and grizzled and war weary and patient and comfortable with himself and his size, he can’t.
And there, the drama begins.
And that’s why Jack Reacher’s size matters. And that’s the crux of fans’ disappointment.
“Reacher was a big man, six feet five inches tall, heavily built, and that night as always he looked a little ragged and unkempt. Lonely drivers wanted pleasant and unthreatening company, and Reacher knew from long experience that visually he was no one’s first choice of companion.” [A Wanted Man, Lee Child, 2012]
What did I want from the Jack Reacher movie?
I wanted an unknown in the role. I wanted to believe that somebody could be Reacher. I wanted a big man who looked like he’d been in too many bar brawls. Someone with a stony face, who could turn cold blue eyes onto the bad guys and make them quiver with fear, and who could also turn warm eyes onto a woman and make her quiver … you get the picture.
I didn’t want Jerry Maguire, Mr Mission Impossible, to pretend to be the big man.
So I’m sad.
I won’t be going to see the Jack Reacher movie. In fact, whenever a preview appears on TV, my younger son (not a big kid) puts his hands over my eyes and says “Don’t watch Mum!” because he thinks that’s funny.
I own every Reacher book. I’ve re-read one or two. They represent an escape which I cherish and I’ll always be grateful to Lee Child for the character.
I wish the movie studio, Lee Child, and whoever else was involved with the creation of the movie had been brave enough to have faith that the big man could carry the flick without having a Hollywood star’s name attached to it.
While I won’t be watching the film, I look forward to many more Reacher books. And there’s nothing that will ever stop me getting a shiver up my spine when I read:
“He put one foot on the shoulder and one in the traffic lane, and he stuck out his thumb, and he smiled and tried to look friendly.” [Lots of Lee Child books …]