In search of the real Jack Reacher

A confession. I was prepared to dismiss, sight unseen, Tom Cruise as the celluloid Jack Reacher and had loudly lamented the casting to friends. It’s not that I particularly dislike Tom Cruise, it’s just that he always plays, well, Tom Cruise. The persona he has given himself as a superstar actor always outplays the character. So, to cast him as Jack Reacher, the peripatetic hero of Lee Child’s bestselling series, seemed cruel and unusual punishment to many of his fans.

 No doubt, a multitude of others won’t give a hoot. The movie Jack Reacher, based on Child’s ninth novel, One Shot released in 2005, is a classic shoot-em-up thriller that fans of the Mission Impossible franchise will no doubt love.

 Reacher, is a retired US military policeman who operates “off the map”. He has no fixed address, no phone, no car (although he is adept at “borrowing” other people’s), no luggage and no visible means of support. When he needs new clothes he buys them in low budget stores although in the movie that means a well-fitting, trendy jacket that even the elderly check-out-chicken admires with a twinkly smile.  

 In the movie, Reacher materialises after a military sniper is arrested following the shooting of five people in a seemingly random attack. But you know, he knows something important that no-one else knows. Reluctantly, he goes to work for Barr’s attorney (played by Rosamund Pike) to ensure that justice is done although the exact definition of justice is flexible.

 There’s lots of crashes, lots of shooting, plenty of bone-cracking encounters between Reacher and various baddies, a few laughs, and a suitably intricate plot to make sure everyone keeps paying attention.  In other words, it’s fairly formulaic stuff shot with a characteristic moody, murky, misty feel. There is even a bald, one-eyed Russian super-baddy (a surprise appearance by the German Filmmaker Werner Herzog).

 If you banish any preconceptions before tucking into the popcorn, Cruise does a capable job as Reacher. OK, he’s a little too pretty, a little too short (hey, physicality is a big issue here) and way too talkative, but overall, he’s fine although Robert Duvall steals the show every time he appears on screen as a cunning old former Marine. Ooh-Rah.

 Now, back to reality. The Wanted Man, Child’s 17th and most recent book begins with Jack Reacher trying his hand at hitch-hiking. It’s not easy. Without wanting to dwell too much on the size thing:  “Reacher was a big man, six feet five inches tall, heavily built, and that night as always he looked a little ragged and unkempt … and right then he was further handicapped by a freshly broken nose. He had patched the injury with a length of silver duct tape, which he knew must make him look even more grotesque.”

 But a car does stop. Two men and a woman, work colleagues returning from a trip, will be happy to take Reacher at least part of the way to Chicago and for the first 120 pages almost all of the action takes place in the confines of the car. It doesn’t take Reacher long to realise that things aren’t what they seem. The women, communicating through a complex blink system manages to convey she is a hostage and the two companions are not nice. (To be honest, I’ve been back over that section several times and would never have deciphered the code; I’d have just thought she had a pretty bad tic. But then, I’m not hot shot ex-military policeman).

 Outside the car the story is buzzing along nicely. Local Sheriff Victor Goodman and FBI Special Agent Julia Sorensen are investigating a mysterious stabbing and a missing witness. Just as Reacher realises he is in the firing line, Sorensen arrives to arrest him although two like minds are much better than one and the pair are soon together on the trail that leads to a secret installation and a shoot-out that is impressive in both its scope and duration.

 A Wanted Man wasn’t as satisfying as some of his earlier books, but Child is still a master of the taut thriller with plenty of fire-power in reserve.

 A Wanted Man by Lee Child is published by Random House. Jack Reacher, directed by Christopher McQuarrie is in cinemas now.

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