Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Rachel and Matt--"The One I Love" (mp3)

"Everybody has plans until they get punched in the mouth."
--Jack Reacher

You may not care much about Tom Cruise. You may not even know who Jack Reacher is. But I guarantee you, for legions of Jack Reacher fans, there is no name scorned right now more than Tom Cruise.

You see, Cruise is set to play Jack Reacher in an upcoming movie. It will be the first time that the Reacher character, as created by author Lee Child, will attempt to be realized on the screen. And therein lies the problem. No one could be more wrong for the part than Tom Cruise.

There's a temptation to use language shortcuts and to simply describe Mr. Jack Reacher as the ultimate badass. But that doesn't begin to do him justice. And justice is what he does. His own justice, as determined by him, not some moral code that society may try to impose. The world according to Jack Reacher goes something like this:

1. I will not be encumbered by anything, not credit cards or anything that puts me on the grid, not personal entanglements. Unless absolutely necessary.
2.If you hurt or harass the weak or unfortunate, I will intervene and I will probably hurt you.
3. If you make the mistake of hurting me, I will hurt you back. Worse, much worse.
4. If I determine that the world would be better off with you dead, I will see that it happens, and the law will not stop me.
5. I can withstand more pain than you (can imagine).
6. If you are one of the weak, I expect you to step up and to work toward your own freedom from trouble.
7. I will leave the second that the situation has been resolved.

The Reacher who can enforce this code is about 6'4", 250 lbs. He is ex-Army Military Police. He is intimate with any kind of weapon or any kind of way to kill. He fears nothing. He has defeated a tank on open ground. He has reset his own smashed nose, knowing that the pain it creates will cause him to pass out. He has the resourcefulness to figure a way out or to turn a hopeless situation to his advantage, the tactical knowledge of a West Point instructor. He has been fighting and winning since he was five.

He is, without apology, larger than life, not smaller than imagined.

I know what they're thinking, but they are wrong. They're thinking that, well, Jack Nicholson pulled it off in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, playing the 6'4" former wrestler R.P. McMurphy as a small sparkplug of a guy. This is different. For one thing, Nicholson was a formidable enough actor that he was able to make the part his own. Cruise, despite pulling off a few surprises in his career, does not have those gifts.

But, far more important, Cuckoo's Nest was a single novel, a relatively quick reading experience spent with McMurphy. Jack Reacher has now appeared in some 15 novels. Those of us who count ourselves fans have spent well over 5000 pages with him as he has crossed the roads and states of America. The vision that we have of him, though each of his millions of readers will see him a bit differently, is very, very collectively not Tom Cruise.

What happens when our imagined conception of someone (or something) must come to terms with an imperfect reality is one of the most difficult challenges for the human mind. It is why, legal issues with the Salinger estate aside, The Catcher In The Rye should not, nay, cannot ever be made. To attempt to bring Holden Caufield to life as realized by one particular actor is fraught with peril, so distinctive and powerful is his narrative voice.

Recent popular franchises like Harry Potter and Twilight, on the the other hand, have brought beloved characters to the screen effectively enough to satisfy most fans. The difference, I have to think, is that the people behind those franchises worked hard to find the actors and angles that would make those characters work. It reinforces what we know, that the authors involved had some strong say in who would play their leads.

Connecting Tom Cruise and Jack Reacher speaks to a different kind of Hollywood power, the actor or the studio or the agent that has the clout to link actor and project, regardless of the unspoken wishes of millions of fans that they "get it right." Perhaps Lee Child signed away control when he was a younger writer, just starting out with what he didn't even know would be a series both popular and critically-acclaimed.

In any event, I have no plans to see the Cruise film, whenever it comes out. I take no pleasure in being able to verify how badly-executed it probably will be. No, instead, in terms of book to screen translations, I'm waiting for the HBO rendering of Game of Thrones to reach DVD. Clearly, by all accounts and by my own pre-investigations, they got it right.

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