REVIEW: Lee Child's 'Jack Reacher' Falls Prey To The Tom Cruise Paradox

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Jack Reacher Tom Cruise Review

Jack Reacher, protagonist of Lee Child's brilliant series of airport pulp, has sold nearly 40 million books. He's also blonde, ugly, 6'5” and 250 lbs, which means the difference between the Reacher that fans love and Tom Cruise, who plays him in his long-awaited film debut, is literally sizable: Ten inches and 90 lbs, to be exact, and a whole lot of handsome. Child's Jack Reacher is homeless, and for the well-coiffed Cruise, playing a guy who shops as Goodwill is as much of a stretch as hoping no one will notice his larger-than-life ex-military cop is barely taller than his co-star Rosamund Pike. (Which in real life, he's not — Pike towers over him by two inches.)

In the original novel, One Shot, Reacher spends half of the book pacing the surprisingly mean streets of a sleepy Midwestern city trying to unravel a shocking sniper attack that left five civilians dead. The flick opens with the crime — watching through crosshairs as the killer selects his targets is agonizingly tense — and in eight minutes, it's solved and the murderer is in prison. Unlike in the book, McQuarrie shows us something the police don't know: the face of the killer is different than the man behind bars. Yet not only is the evidence against the accused so perfect that his lawyer (Pike) merely hopes to get his sentence reduced to life in prison, here comes Jack Reacher, the accused's old enemy, rolling into town on a Greyhound bus to make sure he gets the death penalty.

Reacher is a brute with an odd moral code. When someone has what he wants — be it information he needs or a sports car he wants to borrow — he'll twist their arms (literally) until it's his. And he's not just mean to men: he'll leave women alone in dark alleys, and he'll call a barely legal bimbo a “slut.” But if someone hurts that slut — at least, someone besides him — he turns into a heat-seeking missile of muscles, a jackal who won't stop running until he catches his prey.

So bringing Jack Reacher to the screen means Cruise has a lot to measure up to, but instead of swinging for the fences, he bunts. His Reacher is like every other character Cruise has ever played: Tough, cocky, and the smartest guy in the room. It's the Tom Cruise paradox; he's a great actor who's stopped acting. He can't vanish into a role, but then he doesn't have to. Audiences show up to his films just to see his latest ass-kicking adventure, which makes Cruise the inverse James Bond — instead of different actors playing the same character, he's one actor who plays the same character under a dozen different names. You could pretend his entire last decade onscreen is just Ethan Hunt going deep undercover to save the day.

Luckily for director Christopher McQuarrie, Jack Reacher is also tough, cocky, and the smartest guy in the room. A former Army policeman and genius investigator, he's always three steps ahead of his rivals and he loves making sure they know it. He's so physically gifted that he makes his attackers look like the Three Stooges, and so mercilessly aggressive that he aims straight for his enemies' eyes, knees and groins. Even hanging up a payphone, his elbow snaps like he'd rather be breaking someone's neck. And yet, even this film's last minute name change from One Shot to Jack Reacher does nothing to convince us that we're watching a fictional Army vet named Jack Reacher — we're watching Tom Cruise, and for fans of his, that's enough. For fans of Child's books, however, the pleasures are more complicated.

With, oh, 100 of the book's 376 pages occupied by Reacher's inward deductive reasoning, McQuarrie faced the risk of a flick that was all voiceover. Instead, he flips the script; Cruise silently pads around looking smart and we're meant to see his the gears in his head grinding. The film's more fun when he finally opens his mouth to insult his ever-growing list of enemies, including a sour DA (Richard Jenkins), a cop who accuses him of murder (David Oyelowo), some rednecks (Alexia Fast and Josh Helman), a couple of vicious hitmen (Michael Raymond-James and Jai Courtney, co-star of the next Die Hard) and the big boss, a four-fingered Gulag survivor named The Zec (Werner Herzog). Herzog is perfect for the role: he's made a career of grimly muttering “death” and “murder.” He's only in the movie for ten minutes — far too short — but he has one stand-out scene where he orders an underling to bite off his own thumb or get shot in the head, an at-any-cost survival instinct that Herzog's been hunting for in his own films for decades.

Alas, the weakness of the film is the weakness of the book. The Zec's evil plan is both byzantinely complicated and pifflingly mundane. We already know the face of the killer. What we don't know is why, and the big reveal is more of a “Huh?” McQuarrie, the writer of The Usual Suspects who also adapted One Shot himself, is still finding his legs as a director. Jack Reacher has the bright and empty look of television and is a bit unsteady as it wavers between action and laughs. But the flick is great entertainment as Reacher headbutts his way to the Zec, dutifully and casually giving nods to devotees of the books, even casting Lee Child in a cameo as a police officer who returns to Reacher the only thing he owns: a portable toothbrush. (Explains Reacher in the book Bad Luck and Trouble, “I carry a spare shirt, pretty soon I'm carrying spare pants. Then I'd need a suitcase. Next thing I know, I've got a house and a car and a savings plan and I'm filling out all kinds of forms.”)

Beat by beat, Jack Reacher is just like Child's paperbacks in the best possible way: it's fast, fun, and smarter than it looks. Will it give Tom Cruise another hit action franchise? It deserves to. Hollywood has 17 other Jack Reacher books to pick from, any one of which would fit seamlessly into the Cruise canon. But for Child, the real question is, how many hit films will it take for Cruise fans to remember Jack Reacher's name?

Amy Nicholson is a critic, playwright and editor. Her interests include hot dogs, standard poodles, Bruce Willis, and comedies about the utter futility of existence. Follow her on Twitter.

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  • Jamie says:

    The biggest problem is that Cruise hasn't found a new expression in at least a decade.

  • Linda reader says:

    Want the character, read the books; want the moron, go watch Cruise.

  • wbwise says:

    Unless you've seen the movie Linda, why should anyone give any credence to your comment? I cannot wait to watch this movie.

  • paul ackerley says:

    what is lee child thinking? i have read every book, cruise will never be reacher, iam not saying he is a bad actor but six foot five he is not, 250pounds! i dont care how many pies he eats he will never get there either!! there has to be someone else with a greater physical pressance!!!! please dont sell out reacher to the highest bidder

  • Katherine says:

    I too have read all the novels and there is no way that Tom Cruise with that annoying voice of his is ANYTHING like the book version of Jack Reacher. He has totally ruined that image

    • Leon Krasenstein says:

      Please note. This could never have happened without Lee Child's approval & permission. Don't blame anyone else! He's sold us out.

  • Dave says:

    Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher !!!! What!! He's a foot to short and a 100 pounds to light

  • raul says:

    First off...the picture of Cruise looked wierd... until i realized it was because he wasn't running...
    I'm actually glad the movie got will give the book series a better chance to make another, but I hope they re cast the lead with a WWE wrestler that is actually 6'5"....and it doesn't matter if he can act or not...because its F'ing Reacher....

    • Christy says:

      And Tom Cruise is NO JACK REACHER........ (smdh)

    • jason says:

      Totally agree. In fact, HHH happens to be a 6'5" Frenchman of approximately the right age (at least, as far as the novel One Shot is concerned) and possessing the physique of a lifelong military MP.

  • Dodie Frye says:

    Knowing the man Reacher is, I hope he won't be too embarrassed by metro-sexual Cruise trying
    to emulate him. Reacher wouldn't be caught dead in tight jeans. So, so disapointed, as are other
    friends who are Reacher fans - Would not see the movie if it were a free showing. Watching
    Cruise as Reacher would ruin all future Lee Child novels. Lee, please learn from this mistake and
    if another Reacher movie is made please, please use a handsomly, rugged looking, mature, 250 lb., 6.5" "real" believeable manly man. Actually, Lee, you look more like Reacher. But, thanks for
    the "man"

  • Dodie Frye says:

    P.S. Thanks to all the Reacher fans who agree that Cruise is not, not ever, will be Reacher.

  • Leon Krasenstein says:

    How could Lee Child do this to us? Every Reacher book has been patently depending on the size & weight of the man. He has been SOLD to us on that basis. To cast Cruise in this role is so ridiculous as to be Bizarre!...& a complete sell out by Child. With all those millions of books sold, surely Child could be so mercilessly greedy as to sacrifice his author's soul for the sake a handful of silver. Worse than that, to expose himself to the ridicule.

    • Im no professional, but I feel you just produced the most effective point. You certainly know a great deal about what youre talking about, and I can genuinely get behind that. Thanks for being so upfront and so honest about the subject matter. I truly feel like I have a better understanding now.

  • Johan Starborg says:

    So who should have played Reacher?
    The only actor with those physical traits that comes to mind is Dolph Lundgren, but i'm not sure he's a perfect fit either....

    • Laura says:

      My husband, who loves the books, was thoroughly disgusted with the casting of Tom Cruise as Reacher! He thought perhaps Liam Nieson would have been a good choice.

      • Paul says:

        liam neeson is too old, personally i thought the bad guy in the film would have been an awesome reacher- Jai Courtney, if you see the new die hard trailer.

        • Paul says:

          and dolph lundgrun is an awful choice he can hardly act. I know people say they want a wwe wrestler to play him. WTF!?!?!? reacher is a highly intellegent guy, not some dumbass looking guy. that would be worse than cruise playing reacher. fuck wrestlers trying to act they suck ass

  • zackmandell says:

    Very interesting and well written movie review first off. As someone who has never read the books I would not have know the differences. Very well done.

    • Nick says:

      sorry to say this but i have bought my last Lee Child-Reacher. I have read them all but this TC pic leaves me STONE COLD!

  • stephen blackadder says:

    i have been through all the books to date and was not looking forward to watching the move with Tom Cruise but the movie was done very well and i was not disappointed> he did a great job since i could not see him in that roll> i have seen it twice and still thing it was great>>> the Reacher series are brilliant and to be fair like the books i cannot wait till the next movie comes out

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  • Martha says:

    I think Ray Stevenson would make a perfect Jack Reacher. He's 6'6" around 250 lbs. his face shows a little wear and tear.

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  • kamilahpili says:

    I think that Daniel Craig would fit the Jack Reacher shoes!!! (would need to work on his accent is all!!! unlike Tiny Tom

    • steve says:

      we know it was missed cast get over it >>>>> it did do a good job
      and the movie was not bad

  • M Ghalib says:

    For those of you who have been living under the rocks for the past fifteen odd years (as I was), Jack Reacher is the powerful creation of Lee Child aka Jim Grant. He is this 6'4" giant, an ex military investigator who has his own rules. He is a loner, a maverick and a stickler for justice. Women fear him and are fascinated by him in equal measure. He is what every man aspires to be, a lethal combination of Socrates and Schwarzenegger.

    I have recently got into Reacher and this is his third book I have read in the past month, the others being Gone Tomorrow and 61 Hours. This is by far the best of the lot.

    For those of you who have still not seen the movie version starring Cruise (in the casting disaster of the year), I would not be writing any spoiler.

    A lone sniper fires six bullets and kills five people in a random act of cold blooded murder. When the suspect is arrested, he asks for Reacher.

    The book has believable twists and just the necessary dose of mind numbing and brutal violence. There are some clever bits written to relieve tension.

    This book is like a bear trap. It will clamp down on any one who chooses to open its cover.

  • kannan says:

    The movie is wrong. Reacher would never throw down his gun and fist fight for fairness. And there are too many other questions. Why did Reacher kill the Zeck - what does it achieve? Why does he say the case was closed by killing Zeck and there would be no questions? Why did the bad guys kill Sandy, there was hardly enough motive for the bad guys to kill her. How could Pike seem to believe even for a little while that the 5 random victims could not be anything but an attempt to hide a specific target?

  • Garry Whitehill says:

    I've always pictured Liam Nieson as Reacher, never even got close to thinking of Cruise, pmsl...Reacher is a battle hardened, no nonsense, I make the rules, loner.....Cruise can't pull that off.

  • allword says:

    The film is not as exciting compare to other of Cruise movies.

  • ellystarks says:

    Tom Cruise has lost his artist touch.