Pop Culture

Amazon's Extra-Large New Reacher Series Puts Tom Cruise Back On The Shelf

It's not a very friendly "Welcome to Margrave" in Reacher's first episode.
It's not a very friendly "Welcome to Margrave" in Reacher's first episode. Amazon Studios
The character of Jack Reacher, the subject of 26 (and counting) Lee Child novels and two movies (more on those later), is patently ridiculous. The ex-Army MP major is an expert in hand-to-hand combat, a master sleuth, and an Olympic class sniper. Oh, and he stands six feet, five inches tall and weighs 250 pounds.

Naturally, such an imposing figure could only be portrayed on the big screen by ... Tom Cruise.

There was quite the uproar among fans of the books when Cruise was cast in 2012's Jack Reacher. Obvious physical disparities aside, the movie was actually not bad (the same can't be said for the sequel, unfortunately). The problem was, both movies were action thrillers that happened to have a main character named "Jack Reacher." They never got that the character of Reacher himself, who so often borders on the farcical, is the real draw.

Amazon's new series, simply titled Reacher, gets this. The title role is now played by Alan Ritchson, who's been kicking around for a while, playing the lead in Spike's Blue Mountain State, "Hawk" on Titans, and "Raphael" in the last two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies (not that you'll recognize him from those).

And at six feet two with matching bulk, Ritchson most definitely embodies Reacher's physicality. But Reacher's appeal is much more than that. Show runner Nick Santora understands the appeal of Child's books. There's the appeal of the rootless protagonist who only carries a folding toothbrush and simply buys new clothes instead of doing laundry, sure, but also the taciturn single-mindedness, penchant for violence, and affinity for coffee.
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Looks like the gun show is back in town.
Reacher's eight-episode first season adapts Killing Floor, the first novel, which finds Reacher arriving in the small Georgia town of Margrave thanks to its connection with a blues singer his brother once mentioned. Santora also incorporates elements of Second Son, flashing back to Reacher's childhood and relationship with his brother, and The Enemy, which offers some glimpses of him pre-retirement from the Army. All of it provides some key background to present-day events.

Joining Ritchson are Willa Fitzgerald as Roscoe, a Margrave police officer, Malcolm Goodwin as chief of detectives Finlay, Kristin Kreuk, Bruce McGill, and assorted others who get satisfyingly kneecapped, eviscerated, and otherwise dispatched along the way.

Because as much as the appeal of Reacher is the vicarious enjoyment of  experiencing the vagabond (or knight errant, according to Child) life, so too is watching this monster of a dude deliver swift, brutal comeuppance to various bullies and corrupt authority figures. Santora and Ritchson give us more of what we want, and actually improves on the books by including at least one scene of ass-kickery each episode.

And if you're a fan of the beefcake, Ritchson also manages to wriggle out of his clothes at several points.

Which isn't to say it's perfect. Ritchson's Reacher is more emotional than his dispassionate literary equivalent, undermining his menace (though perhaps making him more relatable). Goodwin also takes too long to get a handle on Finlay, which isn't helped by Fitzgerald's immediate chemistry with Ritchson (Roscoe steals the show in many ways). And — as in the books — it's occasionally laughable that some of Reacher's opponents would look at Reacher and think, "Sure, I can take this guy."

But as adaptations go, Reacher is highly commendable. By staying true to Child's books, the series finally puts the focus on the character and the things about him that sold over 100 million books. In so doing, Amazon puts those previous portrayals in the rearview mirror once and for all.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar