Written by: Chris Spicer, Special to CC2K
Fanboy Comics‘ Chris Spicer reviews the film adaptation starring Tom Cruise.
Geeks are weird when it comes to casting. When a property we like gets optioned into a filmed medium like movies or television, we can’t help but add our two cents for casting our beloved character. Often, our casting choices offer little insight into who would be the right actor for the role. We usually just go for lookalikes. Left up to us, Hugh Jackman would have likely never been cast as Wolverine. He’s completely wrong for the role physically, and many in our community would blanche at Jackman’s background in musical theater as inappropriate background to capture Logan’s essence. “The guy who plays Wolverine should be an MMA fighter, not a song and dance man!” would be the approximate sentiment. And, we would have been totally wrong. At this stage in the game, with four movies produced, a fifth one currently filming, and Days of Future Past on the horizon, Hugh Jackman simply is Wolverine.
Fans of Lee Child’s series of books featuring ex-military police investigator Jack Reacher had a similar reaction when a film based on those novels was announced. If you’re not familiar with the books, Reacher is described as 6’ 5” and 250 pounds with blond hair and blue eyes. Reacher is a bada– brute (he’s gone through extensive Army Ranger training), but he’s a brilliant investigator and usually the smartest guy in the room. He’s Sherlock Holmes crossed with a silverback gorilla.
If we’re basing casting simply on the physical description, the most obvious actor to play Jack Reacher would have to be Chris Hemsworth. Hemsworth is probably a few years too young to play Reacher, but he’s definitely a match for the role as he’s described in the books. Another name bandied about was Dwayne Johnson, wrong for the role ethnically but right for it physically.
So, Paramount cast Tom Cruise.
I have no idea how tall Tom Cruise actually is. I’ve heard people say that he’s about the same size as Prince, which I highly doubt. But, I’ve seen photos of him standing next to then-wife Nicole Kidman, and she’s clearly taller than he is. Obviously, Cruise is at least a good eight or ten inches too short to play Jack Reacher, not to mention he’s not a blond-haired, blue-eyed guy. Fans of the Jack Reacher books were not pleased, and this isn’t the first time Cruise has been a controversial choice to play a popular literary character. (Remember Anne Rice dissing him as Lestat back in the ’90s?) My dad’s a big Reacher book fan, and he just told me recently how awful the whole thing looks to him.
The funny thing about casting, however, is what the actor brings to the role. Though he’s not a physical match, Cruise is just fine as Jack Reacher, and I’m sure people who’ve never read one of Lee Child’s books won’t have the slightest problem accepting him in the role. The problem I have with the movie Jack Reacher is one of adaptation and not one with the lead actor.
I would consider myself a little bit of a fan of the books – I’ve read four or five of them. My biggest problem with Jack Reacher the movie (which is adapted from the novel called One Shot) is that it kind of misses the tone of the books completely.
Like the casting stuff, adapting popular literature for the screen invites its own comparisons to the source material.
As the film opens, a sniper opens fire on a crowd of random passersby in Pittsburgh. Several people are killed, and a police investigation is able to very swiftly (perhaps too swiftly?) indentify the shooter as James Barr, a former Army sniper. Once in custody, Barr implores the cops to do one thing on his behalf: “Get Jack Reacher.”
Meanwhile, in a hotel room in Florida, Reacher sees the report concerning Barr on CNN and immediately heads to Pennsylvania. It seems that Barr had gone on a similar shooting spree during the first Gulf War in the early ’90s. Reacher investigated Barr then, but the incident was covered up by the military. Reacher has no interest in defending Barr. This time he intends to bury him.
Reacher teams with Barr’s lawyer Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike). Reacher’s intent is to prove Barr’s guilt, but very soon he’s convinced that something is off and Barr didn’t actually pull the trigger. Not this time anyway. Helen’s father Alex Rodin (the great Richard Jenkins) is the DA, and he and the cops have never seen such and open-and-shut case.
In a great bit of casting, filmmaker Werner Herzog is cast as the real Big Bad called The Zec. A survivor of the old Soviet Gulag, The Zec is a pretty nasty customer.
The movie’s been adapted and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote the Cruise picture Valkyrie and won an Oscar for writing The Usual Suspects. His work here is a pretty tight version of the novel, and it only bogs down in some of the talky exposition scenes in which clues and events get hashed out by the investigators. The books tend to bog down expositionally, as well. As director, McQuarrie has delivered a great-looking film that boasts a pretty nice car chase in the middle.
My big problem is they’ve decided to make a PG-13 Jack Reacher movie. As a fan of the books, I’ve come to enjoy the carnage Reacher leaves in his considerable wake. One of the things that makes Reacher work as a literary character isn’t the mystery he’s trying to solve, it’s the justice he’s going to dish out to the bad guys with impunity. Reacher doesn’t just punch guys in the face, he obliterates their noses. He doesn’t deliver body shots, he crushes ribs. Limbs are dislocated and folded back on themselves. Heads explode. In Reacher’s universe, every fracture is a compound fracture. It’s not a place for people who cringe at casual violence.
Which is not to say Paramount should make a movie that’s unwatchably gory. I just think they should have made a movie for adults, just as the book series is aimed at adults. I don’t have a problem with Cruise in the role, but I do have a problem with the way Reacher’s been sort of watered down here. The fight scenes are well staged (especially one scene where Reacher is ambushed in a tiny bathroom). I just wanted them to have a little bit more, you know, crunch to them. They couldn’t have given me one lousy hyperextension?
If this were the 1980s, there’s no question Jack Reacher would have been an R-rated movie, and it’s highly likely Arnold Schwarzenegger would have inexplicably played Reacher. The Lethal Weapon movies were all rated R.
But, people who’ve never heard of Jack Reacher the literary character probably won’t mind, and the film will likely work just fine for them. It goes through its paces briskly and efficiently, and the cast is uniformly solid. But, it just makes me wonder: part of adapting a popular series of books is the expectation that fans of those books will make up a large chunk of the movie’s audience. Why defy their expectations as readers?
Jack Reacher is by no means a bad movie. It’s just not the Reacher I’d come to expect.
Chris Spicer is a Contributor for Fanboy Comics, an online conglomerate of geek media, providing its readers with daily reviews, interviews, and podcasts that span the pop culture spectrum. For more interviews, blogs, and reviews by Chris and the FBC staff, check out the Fanboy Comics website at www.fanboycomics.net.