Thursday, August 09, 2012

Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher

I rarely find myself in the position of defending anything Hollywood does, but D-Day is fast approaching, and I don't mean the global apocalypse, or at least, the reset of the Universe anticipated by the Mayan calendar.  I mean the release of the first Jack Reacher movie, based on the incomparable Lee Child's Reacher books, (specifically One Shot), with Tom Cruise as Reacher.

And the protests have started up again over the casting, and I am again unable to shut up about it, especially since I'm off to Australia in a few days and everyone can rage at me all they want and I will be completely untouched by the maelstrom in my state of transhemispheric bliss.

I understand that some Reacher fans, a lot of Reacher fans, are disappointed in the casting, to put it mildly.  Look, nobody has to tell me about having your heart broken by Hollywood.  I worked as a screenwriter, heartbreak was a constant state of existence until I finally snapped and started writing novels instead.

But seriously.  We've all been watching Hollywood movies since before we could talk, right?  So what in the world did anyone EXPECT?

I don't think I should have to point out how very few movies have ever lived up to the books on which they were based. Considering the development process of film, it's a miracle a decent adaptation ever happens at all.  Hollywood is a commercial market, and rare gems are as rare as rare gems.

Hollywood casting is about what will make the most money for the studio. In these days of the weekend box office being reported like football scores, is this is a surprise to anyone?

But there is also a jeering ugliness to some of the criticism that really bothers me. And a literalism that mystifies me.

What are people obsessing over about this casting? “Cruise can’t play Reacher, Reacher is 6’5”.”

Seriously?

That’s all we’re getting out of that character and those books?

I've been excoriated for saying Reacher's size doesn't matter to me. Actually, I'm a big fan of tall men, as my romantic history bears out. But apparently I don't understand the books at all because I really don't care how tall Reacher is.

You see, I had this idea that action has something to do with character. That there’s something about an iconic character that has to do with essence and soul.  I thought that Reacher’s brains and the fact that he’s a walking (literally) archetype – a modern and completely fucked up – I mean wounded - knight errant had something more to do with his charm than – inches.  I thought the actual stories - the Mission Impossible-like intricacy of Reacher’s plans and the way he is constantly able to rally the most unlikely teams of misfits to accomplish hopelessly lost causes had a little to do with the appeal of the books.

As much as I am in total favor of the objectification of male bodies, preferably as often as possible, to me Reacher’s size and six-pack are completely incidental to the man.  But people are posting photos of their picks to play Reacher that would launch me into the mother of all feminist rants if people were posting the equivalent photos of female actor choices for – oh, say, Clarice Starling, Jane Tennison, Jane Rizzoli, Elizabeth Bennet.  It’s embarrassing.

Would any one of us really want any of those slabs of beefcake who were hulking around the Reacher Creature party at the SF Boucheron to play Reacher?  Really?

And yes, there are some actors being named that I would have agreed are perfect Reachers - like Russell Crowe and Liam Neeson.  Perfect - ten years ago, that is.  The practical reality is, both of those fine and gorgeous actors are too old to do a three-movie action series now, unless their age is factored into a  portrayal of an older Reacher, which would be absolutely fine with me, but I suspect not with quite a few other Reacher fans.

But I've also have seen some perfectly idiotic casting choices floated on boards and lists, and no, I’m not going to name names, because those actors might actually be fine actors.  Or something.  But we are not talking about repertory theater, here.

The height thing aside (and height in Hollywood is relative - it's incredibly amusing how many people are protesting that - I'll call him Actor X -  is the only one who could possibly play Reacher when Actor X is in fact a couple of inches SHORTER than Tom Cruise....), there’s a whole hell of a lot more to playing a role like Reacher than acting.  We are talking about a mega-million dollar movie that is supposed to turn into a multi-billion dollar franchise. You don’t just need an actor for Reacher, you need a movie star.  You need more than a star - you need someone who can carry the movie.  And not just carry the movie, but carry the franchise.

Carrying a film is something more than acting. It’s not a very tangible thing. It has to do with being able to be present as a unique character but also letting the audience inhabit you.  It’s about being the point of view character, a vehicle for the audience, and the film’s authorial voice, all rolled into one.  It’s why movie stars are rarely as good actors as the character actors around them are, and why character actors are almost never able to play leads.  A lead actor can be acting his heart out and the movie will still be dead on arrival because the actor isn’t doing that other essential intangible thing.

And the more action and special effects going on, the more important it is to have a lead who can carry all that action.

Those wonderful actors who seemed to be rising really fast and suddenly disappear and are never heard from again? Well, maybe they’re on the rehab circuit, but just as probably they were cast in a film that was supposed to be their big breakout and they just weren’t able to carry the film.

Carrying this movie is going to be ten million times more important than size.  I can think of a couple of actors, good actors, who seem to me physically perfect for Reacher, who in fact work just fine as Reacher in those random Reacher fantasies, you know the ones I mean - but who I wouldn’t want to gamble on being able to carry this film.

Tom Cruise has been carrying movies consistently since he was 21 years old. Ironically, what all these size-obsessed complainers don’t seem to realize is that Tom Cruise is one of a handful of actors on the planet BIG enough to carry a franchise that big.

And anyone who thinks Tom Cruise can’t act should go rent Collateral, or Magnolia. Or Jerry Maguire. Tom Cruise is a hell of an actor. You don’t have a string of dozens of successful movies over thirty years, the majority of which have made over two hundred million dollars each, and more, worldwide, without having something going on. Or would you like to try to argue that that list of movies succeeded in spite of Cruise?

Moreover, he is a terrific action star.  He is a superb athlete and known for training for weeks on end to get the physicality of every action he performs in a film exactly right.  Do you think it’s easy even to fire a gun convincingly on screen, much less perform the kinds of stunts he routinely does in the Mission Impossible films (not that I’m a huge fan of those, but that has nothing to do with Cruise)?

I say, give a major actor some credit for knowing what he can and can’t play. No one thought Dustin Hoffman could make a convincing woman and he only got cast in Tootsie by making demo films of himself as Dorothy Michaels to convince the powers that be that he actually could do it. But he knew.  And after the fact, can you imagine anyone else in that role?

Well, newsflash: Tom Cruise knows a whole hell of a lot better than a bunch of us mystery readers what he can do.  This is not a man in the habit of doing things badly. Will he pull if off?  Maybe, maybe not.  Think about it. Any time we sit down to write a book we think we just might be able to do it some meager form of justice and from there we work like dogs and pray like hell. What makes anyone think it’s any different for an actor?

But we are talking about one of the hardest working and most passionately dedicated actors in Hollywood.  I’d lay down money that Tom Cruise has a better idea of who and what Jack Reacher is than the vast majority of the naysayers. Character is his job and he’s been doing it brilliantly for over 30 years.

He’s a seasoned and successful producer as well, which I’m not going to get into, but you better believe it’s good news for the movie.

But I will say it is stupefying to me that a community of readers and writers, in all this ranting, seem to be saying not one word about what could go wrong with the script. Josh Olson, the original adaptor (adapted and was Oscar-nominated for A History of Violence) is smart, passionate, angry, iconoclastic - I was excited that he was doing the adaptation.  Christopher McQuarrie, attached as director, ended up doing his own adaptation of the book.  He’s most famous for writing and winning the Oscar for The Usual Suspects.  All sounds good, right? But there’s no guarantee here that what ends up on screen will have anything to do with the story we know from the book.  Personally I would hate to see the incredible ensemble energy of this particular story (based on the book One Shot), the way all the seemingly minor characters come together as an unlikely and sympathetic team, get eviscerated to showcase Reacher going it alone.

But that’s an optimistic view of what could actually happen, story-wise.

Instead of bitching about Cruise, we should be on our knees lighting candles to the movie gods that whoever ended up in creative control of this film (and that could well have changed radically in between the beginning of shooting and the film’s release) didn't decide... oh, let’s say... that the stakes weren't big enough, and get the bright idea to make the villains the joint heads of the entire Russian mafia who have decided to take over the US and to do so have acquired a nuclear warhead which Reacher will be forced to dismantle while simultaneously trying to rescue his long lost and hitherto unknown son or daughter or, hey, twin son and daughter– with the loyal help of the dog the executives gave him to make him more “relatable”.

Oh yeah, there is a whole lot that could go wrong with this film.

There also is a chance that a very smart movie could have come out of this. And if it didn't, it’s not going to be because of Tom Cruise.

So how about putting some energy into wishing for a great movie?  It’s rare enough that that happens. Does everyone really want to jinx that with all this vitriol?

If you're an author, you need to understand - that you have NO POWER over who gets cast in any adaptation of your book, if you're ever lucky enough to have that happen. Even if the movie starts out with what seems a perfect director, cast, designer... that could change in a second. These things are totally out of your control.

If you're a reader, and the vagaries of Hollywood really are a surprise to you, and this wasn't what you hoped for, I'm sorry for your pain. I've been there with characters I created.  But is stupefying to me that some readers are saying that the very thought of Tom Cruise as Reacher has spoiled the books for them.  What???  We can have Reacher in any form we want, every time we pick up one of the books. Cast at will. And it couldn't be more obvious from the wide variety of casting suggestions being thrown out that not one of us sees him the same way. That’s the beauty of fictional characters.

Reacher is Reacher.  However you want him, any time you want him. That's the miracle of a book. So don't see the movie if the thought of it upsets you, but for the love of Reacher, don't let that spoil your love of Reacher. That's just - masochistic, I think is the word. You're letting Hollywood win.

But look, if you want to talk about who really should play Reacher, here’s your chance to do it. Share the fantasies. Go wild. Link to beefcake shots, or Youtube exotic videos, I’m not going to object.  Or tell us some books-to-movies that were perfectly cast, and why.

So who do I see as Reacher?  Lee Child. It is entirely mystifying to me that anyone could not think so. And there’s not a living actor in Hollywood who could come up to that level of brains and sexy. But it’s not going to happen, and it shouldn’t.

(And for the record?  Jack Reacher as a movie title?  Epic fail.  But you won't catch ME complaining).

- Alex

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17 comments:

Alex Lukeman said...

Bravo. Well put. I love the character and Lee Child is an amazing author. Tell it like it is, Alex.

Mary Stella said...

I'm not a big fan of Tom Cruise the celebrity but I've seen him do a great job in a wide variety of roles beginning with Risky Business, on up to his hilarious (and nearly unrecognizable) turn as the producer in Tropic Thunder. Color of Money, Rain Man -- the guy can act.

As far as what book to movie adaptations or character castings really worked for me? I think Silence of the Lambs got it nearly perfect on all counts.

I can never imagine anyone other than Gregory Peck playing Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Jolene Navarro said...

Tom Cruise has been through this before, during Interview with a Vampire. After seeing the film, Ann Rice made a huge public apologize for doubting Tom Cruise's ability to pull off her character. Her fans went from haters to lovers.
He might be over the top crazy, but with some actors you see the actor no matter the character but Cruise has the talent of disappearing, letting the character drive the movie.
Have fun down under- That is one conference I would love to visit.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Mary Stella,I couldn't agree more about Silence. that's one of those incredibly rare cases in Hollywood where all the filmmakers were committed to the book, and for a few years, all the top brass at Orion were smart,independent and had taste.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Yeah,Jolene, I was a huge Anne Rice fan and the casting seemed absurd tome, too. I just rewatched the film recently and I love Cruise's performance, totally unexpected and effective.

thanks, I am going to have an incredible time!

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Thanks, Alex! I love both, too, and God knows if I were in charge of the film, things would have been different. If the world were perfect and I had ultimate power, that is!

But to me, the books are perfect the way they are. So I've got nothing to complain about.

Chelle818 said...

Everytime Hollywood turns a book into a movie, 99.9% of the readers seem to be unhappy with the casting. Tom Cruise is not a personal favorite of mine, but still, he can carry a movie.
You're right that we should be much more concerned about how they might mangle the ideals of the book and wrestle it into a script. I cringe at the possibilities. If people want to see man candy and muscles, they should just go see Magic Mike and hope that Jack Reacher has a bit more substance.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Oh my God, Chelle, if you had any idea what I've seen plotlines turn into in film development! No one could possibly believe it in a sane universe. That's always the main thing that has me on pins and needles when I hear a movie adaptation announced of a book I like.

hevonie said...

Hi Alex,
I don't mind if Tom cruise will be Jack Reacher, he's a good actor and I like him. In my mind I've always thought to Reacher as big alpha male, not so attractive. Maybe Cruise is too handsome, but it's o.k.
Another actor I'd like for this role is Daniel Craig, but unfortunately he's too tied to James Bond character.
Big hug :)

Sandra Parshall said...

Alex, Russell Crowe is two years younger than Tom Cruise. I find Crowe a more interesting screen presence, but I don't care who plays Reacher. Books are books, movies are movies, and I don't expect one to be an exact copy of the other. I might actually go see the film if Christian Bale played Reacher, but I'm not sure I would. I am very curious, though, about the actor you say is shorter than Cruise. Isn't Cruise 5'7"? I can't think who is shorter. Do tell.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Yes, but Sandy, Russell Crowe has been LOOKING past fifty for several years now. It breaks my Crowe-loving heart to say it, but it’s true. Luckily he’s a superb character actor and loves those roles, but no one will bank him as an action star. Whereas Cruise can play early forties easily – he’s trained like an Olympic athlete all his life.

And on the short question, you can ask me in person, but after seeing some of the viciousness heaped on Cruise on the height issue, I’m not going to out anyone publicly. A LOT of Hollywood actors and actresses are unnervingly short. I always wore flats to meetings so I wouldn’t tower over anyone.

Mary Boone said...

Alex, great blog. Like you, I see Lee Child when I picture Reacher in my mind's eye. Renaming the movie JACK Reacher has me more worried how Hollywood has treated the source material thanTom Cruise's casting.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Mary, right? Who else has that level of smarts and quiet rage?

Seriously. JACK Reacher. Scary. But I'm kind of thinking the script is going to be okay. I shouldn't say that, might jinx it... anyway, here's hoping!

I'll see you at B'Con, won't I?

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Paola, now, see, while Cruise wouldn't have been my top choice by far, I have ZERO interest in Craig. Just none. You can't possible please everyone!

Lance C. said...

There was a discussion (argument?) about this on Goodreads, and I took your position exactly. Like him or not, Cruise can carry a big film like few other actors. Reacher is all about atitude and intensity, and Cruise has those in surplus.

Also in that discussion, I pointed out an actor who'd be great for the role: lots of experience playing military and ex-military, able to do badass well, physically imposing, handsome, and one of the few other actors who can carry a film single-handed. Denzel Washington. For some reason, not many people signed up to that idea.

Have fun in Oz.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Lance, I couldn't agree more about Denzel - I would LOVE to see him play Reacher.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Alex, I enjoyed reading your very well-informed opinion. I've been shocked that anyone who's had an opinion about this didn't realize the casting isn't up to the novelist--one of the few things I do know about Hollywood is how low in the pecking order writers are. And we do know Cruise sewed up the franchise because he really wanted to do it. What writer in his or her right mind would turn down such an offer? Finally, imho, the crucial difference between a good action movie and a bad action movie is the SCRIPT. So keep your fingers crossed.