Jack Reacher is a recurring character in the thriller novels of Lee Child, and he’s described again and again as a physically imposing figure. Standing 6'5" and weighing roughly 220 lbs, he’s “built like a house” and has hands “like giant battered mitts that bunched into fists the size of footballs.” A bullet fired from a .38 snubnose revolver fifteen feet away gets lodged in his massively thick pectoral muscles instead of penetrating his organs. Half the guys he comes across who would have started a fight with anyone else think wiser of it when facing him.
He’s a big, scary guy.
And in the currently filming adaptation One Shot, he’s being portrayed by Tom Cruise.
Denizens of the internet who’ve read Child’s books have been fairly vocal about this casting choice since it was first announced a few months ago, and there’s no sign the complaining will end any time soon. The fans have a point as Cruise’s 5'7" frame is almost a foot shorter than Reacher’s, but is that physical difference a make or break factor? The author’s official website has been fully supportive of Cruise’s involvement stating that Child “understands better than most that changes [from page to screen] are necessary and inevitable. And like Reacher he doesn’t favor half-measures…if we’re going to have a movie, then let’s have a movie star in it!”
And now Cruise is speaking up too.
The actor recently talked with Empire magazine about the upcoming Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and his career overview, but they also touched on the concerns over his casting as Jack Reacher.
Firstly, I’m very sensitive to it,” Cruise explained, revealing that Child came to watch his readings. “This is Lee’s book and Lee’s character. Him giving me his blessing is what made me do it. If he hadn’t then I wouldn’t have done it… Lee told me that the reason he wrote him that size (6' 5”) is because that was just one element to his character, and that opened the door to me playing him… Reacher is such a great character,” he enthused. “He doesn’t have a cell phone, he doesn’t have email. He’s off the grid. He pays for things in cash. People look at things through the prism of the colors of their life, but Jack Reacher does things the way we want to sometimes. In that sense he’s sort of a Dirty Harry, a James Bond, a Josey Wales.”
I’m only three books into the Reacher series, but I’m already hooked and looking forward to reading the remaining thirteen. They’re fast moving, wonderfully plotted, and often surprising. But consistently, repeatedly, and without fail, Reacher’s physical size comes into play.
Cruise and Child are right of course in that changes can and often should be made when adapting a novel for the screen, and Reacher’s size does act at times as a metaphor for an imposing and unstoppable force. What Cruise lacks in size he more than makes up for with persistence, drive, and his undisputed title as the best movie runner of all time.
And if Reacher’s size was simply one more characteristic of his person none of this would matter. But it’s not. Reacher’s physical nature, his size and presence, affects how he reacts to people and more importantly, how they react to him. Scenarios happen (or don’t) strictly due to his appearance and abilities.
Ultimately, the movie’s success, both critically and commercially, will have nothing to do with the lead actor’s height. It’s entirely possible that writer/director Christopher McQuarrie and Cruise will deliver a thrilling movie that succeeds well enough to warrant a sequel and maybe even a franchise. I like Cruise’s work when he’s in serious action mode, and while McQuarrie may only have one film under his belt as director the guy wrote The Usual Suspects so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Hollywood’s adaptations can be great, fun, exciting movies that even fans of the books come to truly enjoy.
Even if they’re not really Jack Reacher movies.