Reacher v Reacher

Do you know what's weird about Jack Reacher? Not only do you have the series of 28 novels and short stories by Lee Child, but you have two seasons of the Amazon Prime show (with Alan Richson in the role of Reacher) and there are not one, but two movies out there- starring Tom Cruise. But it gets even better because the movies are based on One Shot and Never Go Back while the streaming show adapted Killing Floor and Bad Luck and Trouble. So not only do you have two Jack Reachers out there in the world, but neither movies nor streaming show have adapted the same source material yet.

So, if you can't compare adaptations and you haven't read any of the books yet (something that I'm going to have to remedy, if I'm going to be a Jack Reacher completionist) then you're kind of left comparing the two Jack Reachers that have made it to screen. Granted, I haven't read any of the books- so you have to acknowledge that neither portrayal could necessarily live up to the original source material but I honestly can't think of any other franchise/character out there in the world that has a streaming show portrayal and a big screen counterpart that haven't as of yet, adapted the same source material. 

That means we're left with something unexpected: Reacher (Tom Cruise) vs Reacher (Alan Richson).

I watched the streaming show before I ever watched the movies and I'm kind of glad that I did it that way because while Tom Cruise can be very good at acting, he's one of the actors that suffers from the fact that no matter how hard he tries, he's still Tom Cruise in every movie he's ever in. By and large, I think that's worked really well throughout his career but I think had I gone to the movies first, I would have viewed his performance through that lens.

Instead, with Richson's portrayal onboard, you get to see how different actors approach this role.

You can see similarities in the way that Cruise and Richson approach the role, which has to go back to the original source material. Reacher buys clothes at the thrift shop and discards the old ones. He turns around when people confront him. He's got a savant-like thing going on for analyzing crime scenes (see: the way he breaks down the shooting incident in Jack Reacher.) But the biggest difference between the two portrayals probably comes down to the obvious: the physical.

Richson inescapably is a big giant man who gives the sense that he will kick your ass and not break a sweat doing it. You make Hulk mad, Hulk smash! But Hulk smash in an incredibly precise way that will break as many bones as possible to cause you as much pain as possible.

Cruise's approach I find to be interesting, because the menace is, for lack of a better word, fun-sized. They don't try any fun camera tricks like Lord of the Rings to make Cruise seem like a giant next to hobbits or anything like that. Instead- and this is a word that surprises me when it comes to think about the Tom Cruise movies I've seen, he dials it back a notch. His performance, I don't want to call it 'restrained' but it dances along the lines- but he imbues with a sense of menace that there's a hot white supernova of rage packed into this Short King and he will kick your ass, and potentially kill you with his pink if you give him reason to.  It's very much as if Reacher is an unexploded bomb or a grenade ready to detonate under the right circumstances.

A good example of how Cruise underplays the role is probably the car chase scene from the first movie, Jack Reacher. It's a pretty solid car chase scene, but the end of it is really excellent. Reacher gets out of the car, sets it rolling toward the end of the street, and then quietly slips into the crowd waiting for the bus to arrive. The crowd, deciding either that they a. don't like cops or b. that Reacher seems like a decent enough guy move to block him from view and one guy in the crowd lends him a ball cap to blend in. The most beautiful part of the entire sequence: not a word is spoken. It's really nicely done.

I love that the first movie takes place in Pittsburgh. I feel like Pittsburgh gets to be in plenty of movies, but never gets to play itself, I want to say? Very much a case of 'always the bridesmaid, never the bride' at least in my head-- there could be plenty of movies that embrace the Pittsburgh of it all, but Jack Reacher is the first that I can recall and I love how it leans into the city and the geography of it. (I feel like more movies should do this: not everything needs to be in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles or Miami.) 

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is a little more spread out, action-wise-- moving from D.C. to New Orleans and including a pretty spectacular prison break scene. Cobie Smulders works well in the role of Major Susan Turner and while she likes Reacher as a person, she makes it abundantly clear that she's not going to sleep with him and calls him out on his bullshit when necessary as well. I think those two aspects of her character are really important for his character-- Reacher needs people like that in his life and it works really, really well. Do the actors have chemistry together? That could be another aspect of this I haven't considered, but I think for what the movie asks them to do together, it works really, really well. Whether they'd work together as a romantic couple, I don't know, but... maybe? Sure? 

The tantalizing little thread that runs through this movie is about the wayward teenager they pick up, Samantha (Danika Yarosh) who may or may not be Reacher's biological daughter. Adding a troubled, pain-in-the-ass teenager to a movie who will inevitably get into trouble at the most inconvenient time possible for the protagonists is almost a movie trope at this point, I think and sure enough that's exactly what happens. But as a character, Samantha is a kind of movie-long tease for Reacher to contemplate the idea of having a daughter and a real-life family and what that might mean. Again, Cruise underplays the hell out of this role-- so it's a glance here, a glance there, the tightening of the jaw that kind of thing, but it works. Reacher is forced to think about what that would mean for his life and it's such an interesting thing to do with this character.

Now, granted, in the end, Samantha invites him to the local diner for a slice of pie and reveals that her Mom said she would recognize her Dad right away and hadn't so much as blinked at Reacher (nor he at her) when she took their order, so ergo, he's not her Dad. But the two bond and she slips a cell phone into his pocket and texts him teenager things and that unfreezes him a bit as he hitchhikes away to his next adventure and possibly his next movie!

Do I like one Reacher more than the other? I don't really know-- I didn't think either movie was all that bad, but they were slightly limited by their format. The streaming show has more episodes and more time to focus on delivering (what I'm guessing) is a solid adaptation of the book they're doing in each respective season. I appreciate that both Ritchson and Cruise bring different interpretations to the character but at the same time manage to imbue him with his eccentricities very effectively. Once I get around to reading the books-- because I've got a list of books a mile long at this point--- I might be able to definitively decide once and for all which Reacher is better, but for now we live in a world of multiple Reachers and in the battle of Reacher v Reacher, the only winner are us, the viewers and consumers of this content.


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