Nothing illustrates the irrational ego-driven mentality of Hollywood more than Tom Cruise’s determination to play Jack Reacher in the movie, Jack Reacher, based on Lee Childs’ fictional creation.
Sixteen books into one of the most popular fiction series in history, millions of readers had their own image of Reacher playing in their heads as they read the latest book.
Fair enough, you say. We all create images in our heads. You couldn’t find an actor who represents absolutely everyone’s idea of what a character might look like.
But with Reacher, in two outstanding way, you can. Jack Reacher is 6ft 5 inches tall and 250ibs. Tom Cruise, not to be unkind, isn’t. He’s practically a whole foot shorter and 100lbs lighter.
Reacher’s very existence as a contemporary vigilante depends on his ability to marshall his height and weight; his training and strength (by which he can calculate, to within one pound of pressure) the force involved in one punch, or a leg sweep, or any of the other martial art weapons at his disposal); and the marrying of all this height, weight and muscle advantage with a mind of analytical superiority.
So imagine the collective groan of millions of fans when they heard that Tom Cruise, all 5ft 7″ and 147lbs of him was going to play Jack Reacher.
As films go, it did ok. It cost $60m to make, and took over $200m at the box office. By any stretch that’s a fair performance, until you think about Cruise’s Mission Impossible franchise which has raked in nearly $2bn. Even Valkyrie – which most people don’t remember – took more than Jack Reacher at the box office.
The really irking thing – and it will never go away – is that Cruise doesn’t once seem to have thought about the books’ readers – tens of millions of them; the sort of ready made audience cinemas would kill for. Why did he have to play the man? As an established producer, he could have hired Liam Neeson, or Vince Vaughan, or Matthew Modine, or Vincent D’Onofrio. Dwayne Johnson might have been perfect (although he might have lacked the credibility for Reacher’s brain power).
But no – Cruise it was, and Cruise it will remain. He’s working on Jack Reacher 2: Never Go Back, from the 18th book in the series (One Shot was book 9). You don’t have to read the Reacher books in order. But picking the ninth and the 18th seems pretty random.
Apart from anything else, in the first three books you get to know who Reacher is, including his rational for never keeping his clothes for more than three days at a time. (There’s a brilliant deconstruction of the cost of a washing machine which then requires a spin dryer; which then involves the room in which to keep them; and the cost of running them; which also – of course – involves having a house around the room that contains the machines. By the time Childs has finished, buying a new set of clothes every three or four days just seems, y’know, sensible.
By now, Childs is planning his 22nd book in the series, not to mention the short stories that go for around £1.49 on Kindle. He’s like a box of the best chocolate truffles. More-ish. Harold Pinter is supposed to have said that he couldn’t understand “the mentality of one who is awaiting the next Lee Child”. Well, Harold, you’re dead now, so you’re probably not that bothered. But for clarity – we all need stories, we all need heroes, and we all need to feel, for a few hours here and there, that someone can make sense of a fucked up world.
And that’s why we look forward to the books, and why we’ll continue to read them (well, until Lee Childs slips into formulaic melodrama as Dave Baldacci and James Patterson did; but there’s no sign of that so far). Most of us aren’t interested in ‘liter-a-ture’.
But we are interested in authenticity. And that’s why Tom Cruise will never be Reacher for us. Mock us all you like, Harold, as you turn in your grave. But we know who we are, and we know what we like.