Jack Reacher Heading to a Smaller Screen with a Bigger Lead Actor

Author Lee Child is eager to recast the character to the physical specifics of the book series, but should such attributes matter?

Jack Reacher Tall Man
Paramount Pictures

Size does matter. At least, that’s the belated word coming from Jack Reacher’s creator Lee Child. The author appeared on BBC Radio to announce that his most famous character would be leaving the big screen for the small in an effort to refocus on the source material. That means no more celebrity actors of diminutive size. As introduced in the novel The Killing Floor, the character is a mountain of a man and should remain so. Sorry, Tom Cruise, that may be why your Never Back Down sequel failed to live up to the original Paramount production.

Is it though?

From the moment the actor was cast in the film, fans of the series cried out in frustration. The book describes Reacher as being six feet five inches, weighing 210 to 250 pounds with a chest measuring 50 inches. He’s a beast. Intimidating in a doorway, utterly terrifying when looming over your pummeled body.

Child told the BBC that “the readers are right. The size of Reacher is really, really important and it’s a big component of who he is. The idea is that when Reacher walks into a room, you’re all a little nervous just for that first minute.” At five feet six inches, Tom Cruise is not a tall guy. That’s been the cheap joke for years. He needed an applecart to get eye-level with Nicole Kidman. Hardy-har-har-har.

While I understand a fan’s frustration at hearing the news of Cruise portraying a personal favorite, at some point, you have to give up the freedom of a novel’s imagination for the reality of casting. To that end, when he was first announced back in 2011, Child explained to Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr. why Cruise was the perfect fit for his character: “Reacher’s size in the books is a metaphor for an unstoppable force, which Cruise portrays in his own way.” A year later, Child continued that thought over at The Wall Street Journal, “With another actor, you might get 100% of the height but only 90% of Reacher. With Tom, you’ll get 100% of Reacher with 90% of the height.”

I’m inclined to agree with the Lee Child of the past then the Lee Child of today. Jack Reacher director Christopher McQuarrie could have cast The Rock in the title role. Physically he matches the menacing frame of the fictional hero. Can he match that scary, blank GTFO stare of Tom Cruise? I’ve always found The Rock to hide a twinkle of humanity behind even his most bullying expressions. The guy can’t turn off the charm.

The Lee Child of today finishes his anti-Cruise statement by saying, “For all his talent, [he] didn’t have the physicality. So what I’ve decided to do is – there won’t be any more movies with Tom Cruise…I want all those readers who were upset about Tom Cruise to help me out – participate in choosing the right actor for the TV series. We’re rebooting and starting over and we’re going to try and find the perfect guy.” Do you already have an actor in mind?

The perfect guy doesn’t exist. Not if you’re exclusively hunting for physical attributes. The first Jack Reacher movie worked because Christopher McQuarrie, as director and writer, injected a ferocity into Tom Cruise. He was a savage operator, quick with a mean word, and even faster with a brutal punch to the solar plexus. The character was found in the screenplay.

The film may not have been a runaway success, but it was a modest one earning $218 million worldwide. The sequel took a nosedive, missing the first film’s gross by $56 million because McQuarrie was too busy with Mission Impossible: Fallout to deal with Never Back Down. Edward Zwick (Cruise’s director on The Last Samurai) slipped into the position and was not interested or even capable of maintaining the character’s barbarity. The film was a limp noodle.

No word on where this Jack Reacher television show will land. All Child will say is that it will be a long-form series on a streaming platform. I’d give that series a shot. I’m sure they’ll find someone adequate for the role, but don’t take a dump on Cruise’s stature while doing it. Focus on the character’s calculating, well-trained bodily assaults and deliver a few kick-ass action set-pieces. Both fans and newbies will be happy.

Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.