What, are you people trying to kill me?
Look, I’m dealing with the third case of mono I’ve had in my lifetime, and my entire central nervous system is a little shaky to start with, so when I see the headline “Tom Cruise In Talks To Play Reacher,” my first reaction is to kick my computer into little pieces then run outside and bellow impotently at the sky in rage.
That’s normal, right?
I wrote an article last year where I brought up a candidate for the job, Dwayne Johnson, and I admitted that I’m still fairly new to the world of Jack Reacher. Love the character. I think Lee Child writes awesome, compulsively readable pulp. And one of the things that I love about his character is the image I get as I read each of the books. Like John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee, Reacher is a very specific type of man, a huge slab of beef who can fall on a bad guy like a goddamn house. When you cast these roles, you need burly, outsized macho men. You need physical specimens that will make the rest of us feel painfully inadequate.
So you hire Tom Cruise and Leonardo Di Caprio?
See, this is why the movie star system of financing sucks. And it does. There’s no defending it. It sucks because it means they will bend (or break) the character to fit the movie star instead of going out and finding the exact right person for the job. I would rather see no Reacher film at all than see Tom Cruise, who I think is a perfectly fine actor who has made many movies that I enjoy, come in and basically turn Reacher into Tom Cruise. I can already predict every note of how he’s going to play the part because I am a sentient being who has seen other Tom Cruise movies. He is a beloved movie star not because he has range, but precisely because he does not. When people walk up to the ticket window on opening night for his films, I can tell you from personal experience that most of those people will ask for a ticket to “Tom Cruise,” not whatever the film is actually called. That is superstardom. It is also not appropriate when you are trying to accurately bring a character that is so carefully defined on the page to life.
And I’m sure when Lee Child got that call, his first reaction was, “Well, sounds good to me.” And I don’t blame him. You get Tom Cruise attached, you get a fairly good shot at actually making the film. It won’t be his next movie unless the deal comes together crazy fast, and waiting for Cruise has killed more than one film in the past, but this package is starting to look like it’s going to happen. You’ve got Skydance, the financing company run by billionaire David Ellison, you’ve got Christopher McQuarrie directing from his own script (which I would LOOOOOOOOOVE to read, hint hint), and you’ve got Cruise now, in negotiations according to Mike Fleming.
Reacher is six-foot-five in the books. Cruise is three-foot-four. In lifts. As Dan Fienberg just said to me, Peter Dinklage is more appropriate, both height-wise and in terms of being a no-flinching badass. When Cruise plays an action hero in something like the “Mission: Impossible” series, I’m fine with that, because Ethan Hunt is whatever the filmmakers tell us he is. He can be a sort of short wiry guy and I’ll buy it. But Jack Reacher is damn close to being a giant, and unless they’re going to shoot the entire film a la “Lord Of The Rings” to use forced perspective and make Cruise tower over everyone, it’s starting from a compromise that I, as a fan, don’t really want to make.
This speaks to a larger issue in Hollywood, and it’s one that I don’t see any way to fix any time soon. We have, as a culture, eliminated the genuinely gigantic macho man from the menu. We don’t really produce “MEN” for film anymore. We’ve got a lot of boys who are in their 40s and even 50s now, but they are still essentially boyish. We’ve moved away from the Superman ideal and embraced the Bruce Lee. No, not even that. It’s the Matt Damon that is the action hero ideal now. Small and ripped is fine these days, and it seems like there are very few action stars that break that mold. If they do, they never really seem to break through to mainstream success. Even Vin Diesel, who looks like muscle stacked on muscle when you see him on film, is in reality only four and a half feet tall. True fact.
That’s one of the reasons I advocated so strongly for Dwayne Johnson to get a shot at the role. He can act. He’s got charisma to burn. And he’s H U G E. I have been on several sets with him, and seeing him on the set of “Fast Five” was one of the few times I’ve ever felt like I was looking at a different species standing next to someone. He was just exaggeratedly large. One of his fists looked like it was the size of Patton Oswalt. He looked like he could punch a cruise ship to death.
And, hey, the books have only sold 40 million copies or so. No pressure. Look, I know Cruise is one of the producers on the series, the same way Di Caprio is a producer on the McGee series. So if they want to play the parts, they will, and there’s nothing I can say that would change their minds. Lee Child himself had this to say about Cruise, seemingly negating my complaints: “Reacher’s size in the books is a metaphor for an unstoppable force, which Cruise portrays in his own way.” Sigh. Yes, I’ve seen the “unstoppable force” of Tom Cruise, and while I know many people who love “A Few Good Men,” when I hear that, all I can picture is this little yappy chihuahua in Navy dress blues barking at Jack Nicholson in court until this battle-hardened general suddenly decides to implicate himself in a crime and spill the beans just to shut the little doggie up. I don’t buy “unstoppable force” Tom Cruise. And it kills me to disagree with Child on this.
“One Shot” happened to be the first book in the series I read, and by the time I was finished, I was hooked. I’m sure McQuarrie, who rewrote an earlier draft by Josh Olson, did a fine job adapting it, and I like him as a director, too. I want to be excited by this news. I want to anticipate this movie.
But with Tom Cruise? I can’t. I just freakin’ can’t.