Can Tom Cruise Fill Jack Reacher's Shoes?

By , Contributor

Hollywood is buzzing about the news that Tom Cruise is 'in talks" with Paramount to play Jack Reacher, the hero of Lee Child's thriller franchise that has sold over 40 million books. (Incidentally, "in talks" is Hollywood code for a situation in which the star, the star's manager - Jane Wagner, in this case - and the studio can't agree on the money.) It could happen, but there are some issues to be overcome.

The most obvious problem, and this is what people are talking about, is that Cruise is not physically right for the part. As Child created him, Reacher is a West Point graduate, a former MP, and a brute of a man. Child tells us in every book that Reacher is 6'5" and weighs 250 pounds. He's been a fighter all his life, and puts down the bad guys with brute force. Does that sound like Tom Cruise to you? Cruise is maybe 5'7", with lifts in his shoes; in some scenes in the cleverly written Knight and Day he was noticeably shorter than Cameron Diaz, who is 5'9". He's the shortest leading man since Alan Ladd, star of Shane, who was just over 5'6". If I can make a really bad pun, Cruise will have to reach to play Reacher.

Still, Cruise has done some exciting fight scenes, in The Last Samurai, as well as in Knight and Day. But in those scenes he used martial arts skills, which require speed and coordination. So maybe Christopher McQuarrie, who's writing and directing, can rework the fight scenes so that Cruise can be believable in them.

But the serious problem, the problem that no one has much to say about, is what people expect from a Tom Cruise movie. The thing is, he usually plays a slick guy with some professional expertise who turns out to have a heart of gold in the end (Top Gun; A Few Good Men; Jerry Maguire).

Jack Reacher is the opposite of all that. Reacher is homeless by choice; he has no possessions and no friends. He rides the bus with no destination in mind. He keeps running into bad guys, though. And after he kills them brutally and stacks the corpses, he just wanders off, like Robert Redford at the end of The Electric Cowboy.

The young Tom Cruise could have played Jack Reacher. He stunned the critics and the public alike with the intensity of his crippled Vietnam veteran in Born on the Fourth of July. So he has, or used to have, the range to play a violent, shabbily dressed drifter. But whether he and Christopher McQuarrie can team up to create a character who is more or less faithful to the Jack Reacher in the books and whom Cruise can convincingly embody remains to be seen. If McQuarrie and Cruise pull it off, it will take more creativity than goes into most Hollywood movies.

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JIm Curtis has a background in Russian studies, and is fascinated with both high culture and popular culture. He just finished a book on Dylan, and covers the book beat for The Morton Report.

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