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”.”
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
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
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
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).
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