1997 saw the publication of The Killing Floor by Lee Child. It did quite well; it was nominated for five awards and won three. It started a series of twenty-six novels, so far, and around twenty novellas and short stories. To date, Lee Child has sold over a hundred million copies of his Jack Reacher-based stories.
Unsurprisingly, there would eventually be someone starting to sniff around and murmuring words like “film adaptation”.
Having read all of those forty-plus stories…I can understand why. They are exciting, well paced, well plotted, action packed thrillers. They also have the redeeming feature of being eminently filmable. No bizarre spacecraft circling far-off planets with clouds of nitric acid and sulphur-based life forms. Nothing that requires enormous leaps of imagination. There were, however, a few things that the readers felt were inviolable. They all centred around the lead character; Jack Reacher.
Hit Them Fast, Hit Them Hard, And Hit Them A Lot
First off, Reacher is big…very big. He’s described as being 6’5” tall, 250 lbs, and a total mesomorph with a six-pack like a cobbled city street, a chest like a suit of NFL armour, biceps like basketballs, and subcutaneous fat like a Kleenex tissue. Throw in a patchwork of scars picked up over a lifetime of conflicts and a face that looked like it had been chipped out of rock by a sculptor who had ability but not much time, and you start to get a very clear picture of the man. Even in his youth, his physical appearance was likened to that of a “bulked-up greyhound”.
So why was Tom Cruise cast in the films?
Personally, I blame the producer, Thomas Cruise Mapother IV. Don’t get me wrong, Tom Cruise is a fine actor, apparently a very nice guy (apart from dodgy quasi-religious stuff), and can still open a film but casting him as Reacher was a mistake. Well…perhaps trying to sell the film using the Jack Reacher name and brand was the mistake. Both Jack Reacher and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back are good films. They just don’t feature what the long time readers saw as Reacher.
Another problem was that on a number of occasions throughout the book series Reacher says that he is not a runner. He doesn’t enjoy it, he isn’t good at it, he can barely manage a jog, and is most definitely not a sprinter. Being over six feet tall and quite bulky myself I can sympathise with that sentiment. But, what is Tom Cruise famous for? Running! He is always running in his films.
As Admiral Ackbar nearly said, “It’s a trope!” Furthermore, it was a trope that he didn’t shy away from in his portrayal of Reacher.
I understand that there are a limited number of actors who are 6’5” tall; Joe Manganiello, Armie Hammer, John Corbett, Dwayne Johnson, and Tyler Perry are the few that turn up after a quick Googling. Then there is the question of width as well as height. Only Dwayne Johnson has anywhere near the physicality that is needed for Reacher. While Reacher is supposed to be a natural mesomorph, other actors have achieved similar results after years of hard work and there are a lot of personal trainers and dieticians ready and willing to ply their trade.
They Broke My Toothbrush, I Don’t Own Anything
Which brings us to Alan Ritchson – the face, and body, of Reacher on the new Prime Video series. Now Mr Ritchson is another teeny tiny pixie of a man…well, he’s a mere 6’2” but a decent pair of heels can take care of that. And he has the right body but, I think, that’s probably down to a lot of hard work. How about the hastily sculpted face? To my eye he looks a bit like Chris Pratt and, if he weren’t so expensive now, he would have made a convincing Joe Reacher.
And the massed readers all breathed a sigh of relief when they saw the first trailer. A big guy with well defined muscles and nearly the right height was a grand first step. Loads of well choreographed violence and a sprinkling of humour all made for a promising next step. It was just a question of waiting for release. The trailer made it clear that the series was going to be based on Killing Floor, the aforementioned start of the written Reacher phenomenon.
I can say here that I have read The Killing Floor a few times and was wondering just how they’d turn it into a series. Would they try and stick as closely as they could to the original text or would they do what EON did with Moonraker? Take the title and the character names and very little else. The thing is that a series has a big advantage over a film when it comes to the stick as closely as you can school of thought.
That handy little information page that appears when you start a book using Apple Books or Kindle gives a typical read time of eight hours and nine minutes. Films tend to last between ninety minutes and, at a (bladder!) stretch, up to three hours. Obviously, something has to be sacrificed. The series comprises of eight, fifty-minute episodes. If we knock out a few minutes for titles and credits you’ll have somewhere in the region of six hours to tell that story.
Waiting Is A Skill Like Anything Else
And it was done very well indeed! I watch it twice over the opening weekend. Incidentally, Prime Video is a bit reluctant to let you watch something more than once! There should be a reset button that works for the whole series rather than just the episode you happen to be on…but I digress!
The series sticks closely to the original text but still has a few scenes which are not in the book but dropped in for the benefit of people who have tuned in without knowing the storyline. There’s not much being given away by saying what happens in the first few minutes. Reacher gets off a bus and walks into a (fictional) town called Margrave in Georgia; that’s the US State rather than the country besides the Black Sea.
He gets to a café just as a couple are coming out and walking to their van. The man is berating the woman, backs her against the van, bangs on the side panel, and threatens her. He becomes aware that Reacher is standing watching a couple of metres away and turns around and starts the old “what are you looking at” tough guy routine. As is so often said in the books…Reacher says nothing. He stands and stares. The guy realises how big Reacher is, backs down apologetically blaming things on a bad day, and promises it won’t happen again. THAT is why you need a big actor to play Reacher.
Obviously though, you can’t build a successful series just having the right lead. Fortunately, the rest of the cast was similarly excellent. It’s just unfortunate that, due to the peripatetic lifestyle Reacher has adopted, hardly any of the supporting cast are likely to be seen again. The actors who play his younger self (Maxwell Jenkins), his mother (Leslie Fray), and the young and grown-up versions of his brother (Gavin White and Christopher Russell, respectively) do appear again in the books usually in flashbacks so may get some more screen time.
Another character I was very pleased to see was Frances Neagley (Maria Sten) who was written into the story; she wasn’t in the book. I was pleased because she is one of my favourite characters from the book series and am glad to hear rumours that she’s going to be written into every season. She is quite a complex character; extremely tough but flawed and shares history with Reacher.
Spread Love And Understanding, Use Force If Necessary
I suppose the only other question is will the series carry on working through the books in order. I hope if only because that’ll mean we should end up with a lot more series in the future! To be honest though, part of the beauty of the Reacher series is that they can be read in any order. There are a couple of times when one book will have started just after the last one ended but it doesn’t mean that you won’t understand the second one if you haven’t read the first.
That may explain why the two films were plucked, seemingly, at random. In fact, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is based on the novel Never Go Back which continues the storyline covered in the novels 61 Hours, Worth Dying For and A Wanted Man. All four can be read in isolation, at random, or in series and are all perfectly understandable. I hope that doesn’t mean that they arbitrarily decide to miss out stories.
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Former teacher, lecturer, homelessness administrator, pharmacy dispenser now happily retired, happily married, and a very happy granddad. I live next to the Mersey but on the side Daniel Craig and Taron Egerton come from rather than the side the Beatles came from!