Reacher Teacher: Five Things to Learn Before Checking Out 'Jack Reacher'

Reacher Teacher: Five Things to Learn Before Checking Out 'Jack Reacher'

Dec 20, 2012

You don’t know Jack? We can help.

The latest addition to Tom Cruise’s action oeuvre didn’t come from a comic book or a vintage television show. Instead, Jack Reacher is the hard-hitting hero of 17 best-selling novels – and multiple short stories – penned by author Lee Child (the pseudonym for British writer Jim Grant). He’s an indomitable figure, beloved by crime-story enthusiasts for his strategic approach to twisty murder mysteries and his reliance on brute force to maintain the upper hand over his adversaries.   

And the first name that jumped into all of our minds when we heard Hollywood finally wanted to bring Jack Reacher to the big screen was… well, probably not Tom Cruise. 

We’re keeping an open mind as we head into Jack Reacher, the first film in what could potentially be a lengthy film franchise. (The movie’s based on the 2005 novel One Shot, meaning Paramount has at least 16 other Reacher books it could cull from if the sequel-friendly Cruise wanted to keep going.) 

If you haven’t read any of Child’s books, what do you need to know about Jack Reacher before heading into the movie on December 21? Here are the five key things we think need to be shared about Jack Reacher and his world:

1. He’s ex-military.

Reacher’s entire existence can be laced through his experience in the military. And not just his own professional career. Reacher was a military brat. The son of a Marine, Reacher was forced to move around often as a child, and claims that he learned to fight in tough neighborhoods in the dark corners of our globe. He enlisted in the Army once he was old enough. He graduated from West Point, and served 13 years as a U.S. Army military police officer… basically, a cop whose suspects often were the highest-trained killers in our military branches. In order to prevail, Reacher always had to stay two steps ahead of criminals who believed they had eliminated every element that could raise suspicion or link them to a crime. With that in mind… 

2. He’s often the smartest person in the room.

Much like Sherlock Holmes, Reacher often is able to map out motives and consequences at a faster rate than his adopted partners. He has an uncanny ability to see the big picture at a crime scene, and noodle through details that many aren’t able to process. This skill comes in handy during almost every physical confrontation. As written by Child (in deliciously graphic language), Reacher plays out fights in his head before they happen. He predicts a punch before it is thrown, and anticipates a kick before it can land. In his mind, he has been through virtually every scenario before, and it’s just a matter of playing them out -- normally resulting with him standing over the bloody husk of whatever fool (or fools) decided to take him on. With that in mind…   

3. He’s often the bulkiest person in the room. 

Unlike Sherlock Holmes, Reacher is a hulking mass of a man whose physicality lends him an edge whenever working a case. Child describes him as 6’ 5” and muscular. You know, just like Tom Cruise. He has icy-blue eyes and sandy blond hair. His military training ensures that he’s very organized and stoic. But he claims that it’s impossible for him to be discreet and “invisible” when tailing a suspect or working a case because of his size. So he needs to stay aggressive, because avoiding an adversary often isn’t an option. Reacher’s just too large. Again, just like Tom Cruise.

4. He’s a loner. And a wanderer. 

Alex Cross presides over Washington, D.C. Lucas Davenport works crimes in the Twin Cities region of St. Paul and Minneapolis. And Los Angeles belongs to Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. But Reacher doesn’t have a territory because he doesn’t have a home. Following a compromising incident documented in the fantastic novel The Affair, Reacher left the Army, stuck his thumb out, and started hitchhiking.

He never stopped. He travels with a toothbrush, an expired passport and a debit card. Every book takes time to explore where Reacher will stay – often in a hotel room or with a kind stranger. He buys clothes as needed, and doesn’t carry a cell phone. According to Reacher, he went off the grid as an experiment… and liked being off too much to ever return. So he wanders, and often finds trouble. This means, if Paramount continues the Reacher series on-screen, that they can plan mysteries in Key West, Atlantic City, Boston, Colorado, South Dakota and several other offbeat locations where Reacher’s travels have taken him. 

5. He was destined to be played by Tom Cruise.  

Maybe “destiny” is too strong of a word. But from the moment this project was announced, Jack Reacher has had Lee Child’s blessing – and if the author approves of Cruise in the role, who are we to argue against? In a fantastic article written by Child for, the author writes, “Cruise is a unique blend of two things: On the outside he’s a gigantic movie star and celebrity and tabloid sensation; but on the inside he’s an old-fashioned character actor who starts and finishes with the words, and trusts and values writers more than anything else. … The conventional paradigm of inevitable structural conflict between book fans and moviemakers didn’t apply on this project: The moviemakers were book fans. They were obsessed by Reacher and understood him and protected him just as much as any reader would – more so, even.

“There’s a scene in the movie where Reacher’s lawyer springs him from a night in jail, and he has to stop by the police station’s front desk to pick up his possessions. As all Reacher fans know, he has only one possession – his folding toothbrush. They said I had to play the sergeant at the front desk. They live in a world of story and symbolism, and they wanted Lee Child to pass the baton – in the form of the toothbrush – to Tom Cruise. The sergeant would have no lines, but he had to shrug, a little quizzically. On one level, it was the sergeant commenting on Reacher’s theories. On another, it was me, looking at Cruise, and saying: ‘He’s doing okay.’” 

Will they keep on doing “okay?” Child says he’d love to do more Reacher films, but for now, it’s up to us. If audiences like it, and turn out to support it, there will be more Jack Reacher films. Hopefully this isn’t the hero’s One Shot at cinematic success.

Categories: Features, In Theaters
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