I don’t know if you’ve seen Jack Reacher, the new Tom Cruise movie, based on the novels of Lee Child.
Cruise, who is one of the movie’s producers, obviously hopes that it will be the start of a profitable franchise for him, his very own Jason Bourne or James Bond.
I am not a Lee Child fan but I do know something about Jack Reacher. Lee Child is the pseudonym of a former British TV producer whose career spluttered to a halt when Granada, the British TV company, underwent a management change. In need of a quick buck, the former producer decided to write action thrillers that appealed to the American market because America was where the money was. His central character is a former army officer and is described as being incredibly tall and very powerful. He combines his height and strength with sharp deductive skills and solves cases by using his fists and his brain.
The Jack Reacher books have been huge commercial successes, at least partly because they are not too taxing at an intellectual level. So, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood got around to filming them. Because Child understands TV and the movies, the novels already have a certain cinematic quality to them. All Hollywood needed to do was to find the right man to play Reacher.
In previous years, whenever Child gave interviews and was asked which actor he would like to see in the Reacher role, he was always slightly evasive. But the one thing he did say with some certainty was that Reacher would not be played by someone like Tom Cruise. After all, Reacher is six foot five inches tall and Cruise is a little guy.
So why then did Child agree to let Cruise fill the role? The answer, I suspect, has to do with economics. If the films were going to become part of a big budget franchise, then a major star had to be involved. If Hollywood had cast somebody like Chuck Norris in the role, the films would have been medium-budget pictures. It was only after Cruise signed up that the studios agreed to advance the big bucks needed to make a blockbuster. If you’ve seen the movie then you will know that the decision to give the part to Cruise has not been a wise one. The Reacher character is supposed to be a tall, mysterious drifter who flits in and out of cities by Greyhound. But the way Cruise portrays him, he seems like an urban sophisticate who is more used to private jets than buses. Nor does Cruise convey the same air of mystery as the Reacher of the books. Instead, when he is supposed to looks enigmatic, he just seems cocky and devious. Of course, it works against the movie that Cruise is a bit of a midget. But even if he had the required height, I doubt if he could have carried off the role.
| "I don’t know if there will be a second Jack Reacher movie. Cruise has enough clout with the studios to insist on a sequel. But for his sake, I hope he does not."
Cruise is a pro, one of the smartest people in Hollywood. Why then did he agree to accept a role that he was so clearly unsuited to?
The reason for the bizarre casting choice is that Cruise has come to terms with the reality of today’s Hollywood. The top-three grossing pictures of last year were all franchises. Number one was The Avengers, based on the Marvel comic book and reuniting characters such as Thor, Iron Man and The Hulk, who had already appeared in movies of their own. Number two was The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s concluding part of his Batman trilogy. And number three was Skyfall, the new James Bond picture.
If a star like Cruise is to get the paydays he requires (a minimum of $ 20 million per movie) then he has to associate himself with a franchise that brings in big bucks. Superhero movies are obviously not an option – at least until DC Comics makes a movie version of The Atom, about a tiny superhero – and nobody is going to cast him as a British spy.
What he needs, therefore, is a franchise that depends on an action hero who does not wear a costume. Though Matt Damon is not particularly tall, he drew millions to the box-office to watch the Bourne movies. When Cruise himself took over the old Mission Impossible TV show franchise, he wrote in a character called Ethan Hunt, who was not in the original show so that he would have a role to play. With the Mission Impossible series now nearing its expiry date, Cruise thought Jack Reacher would be the next big franchise.
The problem with franchises is that they only work if the character is stronger than the star. So many different people have played Superman, Batman or James Bond that the box-office draw does not depend on any individual’s star power. But when the character is too closely associated with a single actor, then the franchise flounders. When Matt Damon gave up playing Jason Bourne, the producers thought they could keep the franchise going by introducing a new character played by Jeremy Renner. But the movie was dismal and it rapidly became clear that there could be no Bourne movies without Damon.
I don’t know if there will be a second Jack Reacher movie. Cruise has enough clout with the studios to insist on a sequel. But for his sake, I hope he does not. An actor of his standing should know when the role fits. And this one has been a bad mistake.
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