The Adaptation Fans Have Been Hoping For

This is it, folks. This is Jack Reacher as you see him in your mind while reading.

Alan Ritchson in Reacher

Amazon Prime

By Rob Hunter · Published on February 1st, 2022

Jack Reacher is a big guy. 6’5 ″, 230lbs, and fueled equally by a sense of justice, an indifference to societal expectations, and a talent for violence. A retired major from the US army’s military police, he travels with neither a home nor belongings in an effort to see the country’s sights, explore its history, and eat a good meal at any and every opportunity. While he’s been accused of attracting trouble, the truth is more likely that he’s more in tune with what’s coming and does not turn his back when it arrives. He looks out for the little guy – to Reacher, they’re all little guys – and after doing just that in twenty-six novels, numerous short stories, and two feature films, Reacher is finally coming to the small screen.

And it’s exactly what fans of Lee Child‘s books both want and deserve.

A bus stops outside Margrave, GA – a town so small the bus does not even enter – and Jack Reacher (Alan Ritchson) steps off. He walks into town, stops at a diner, and is arrested for murder before he even took a bite of pie. It seems the small town has just had its first homicide in years, and the big, hulking stranger is suspect number one.

Lead Detective Oscar Finlay (Malcolm Goodwin) thinks he’s guilty, but when a local man confesses he’s forced to release Reacher in the hopes he’ll just leave town. That’s not happening, though, as the situation quickly grows even more personal for Reacher when his older brother enters the picture. With revenge on his mind, and with the help of both a local cop named Roscoe Conklin (Willa Fitzgerald) and an old friend named Frances Neagley (Maria Sten), Reacher’s gonna be filling a few more graves in Margrave.

Reacher‘s eight-episode season tackles the first of Child’s twenty-six novels, 1997’s The Killing Floor, and here’s hoping there are many more seasons to come. As with Amazon Prime’s Bosch (2014-2021) which adapts multiple Michael Connelly thrillers across its seven seasons, the streamer affords Child’s lead character the same kind of breathing room. It captures both Jack Reacher and the flavor of Child’s novels as well as any fan could hope – those who take issue with Tom Cruise’s portrayal in the two films will have no such gripes here – delivering a compelling procedural with engaging characters and a narrative punctuated by quick, thrilling action beats. The story touches on elements ranging from small-town struggles to bullying to criminal behaviors at the corporate level, and all of it unfolds at a steady, engaging pace.

Cruise’s Jack Reacher (2012) is a terrifically low-key action gem and its sequel is also a movie, but while I can defend his performance as Reacher – yes he lacks the imposing size, but Cruise convinces with the attitude and confidence – there’s no denying that Ritchson is a far more accurate representation of the character.

Ritchson is a big, chiseled piece of protein, but it’s not just an issue of physique as Ritchson also captures Reacher’s matter-of-fact observational wit. He cuts a mean figure, but the character’s personality and determination that runs through Child’s novels are every bit as evident in Ritchson’s performance. Reacher is a man who’s comfortable with his fists but just as likely to talk his way through something as his common sense and nearly encyclopedic knowledge connects dots most of us only see as noise, and Ritchson delivers the dialogue with both conviction and a little bit of sass where necessary just like his namesake in the novels.

The supporting cast is solid with both Fitzgerald and Sten being standouts who show real chemistry with Ritchson, but therein remains a curious issue for the series. Sten and a couple of others return here or there across the novels, but the books share more than just a large hero with the show The Incredible Hulk (1977-1982). Child’s books – and yes, I’m a fan having read the first twenty-five so far – all unfold in different cities with only Reacher himself being the constant. He’s a wandering hero finding new challenges, friends, and enemies wherever he goes. The second novel, The Trying (1998), takes place in Chicago and the Midwest, for example, and pulling up stakes each season (even to move between locations that can work as stand-ins for cities, rural communities, forests, etc) isn’t exactly ideal for a show’s longevity.

It would be a damn shame, though, for Reacher to not find enough success to warrant more seasons. Attracting buzz might be difficult as the show, like Child’s novels, is not about high-concept plots, mesmerizing twists, or whiz-bang presentations. It’s a rock-solid procedural more akin to (but better than) your dad’s favorite series on CBS pitting a “good guy” against some real baddies. I realize comparing it to a CBS show is not quite a sell for most, but Reacher is never dull. The eight-episode length is ideal for parsing out the novel’s story beats and characters without ever losing its pacing, and in addition to delivering there, the show also drops some highly entertaining action beats.

As in the novels, Reacher is a man who has no interest in waiting for the other guy to strike / shoot first and will instead land the first blow when he deems it prudent. Ritchson absolutely convinces with moves that highlight strength, speed, and smarts, and even the briefest of bouts spike viewer adrenaline. He’s a character whose presence you quickly grow to enjoy as his interest in bullshit is non-existent and he puts people in their place on a regular basis. Sharp dialogue enhances Reacher‘s appeal even more as character interactions and observations keep things moving, humorous, and lively in between the bruises and bloodshed.

Christopher McQuarrie’s 2012 feature adaptation nails the character extremely well, regardless of how you feel about Cruise, and showrunner Nick Santora is equally successful at understanding the assignment. Minor changes / omissions from the source novel abound, but Santora delivers a pretty straightforward adaptation here which is arguably the right way to tackle Child’s commercially minded but uncomplicated books. Flashbacks to Reacher’s past – he grew up on Army bases around the world alongside his brother and parents – sketch out the man that he became, and while these scenes suffer some in the acting department their typical brevity minimizes any damage. Past lessons are applied in the present, and we get to see the events that shaped Reacher into a smart, confident, no-nonsense man wholly uninterested in settling down with anyone or any place.

Reacher is fun, engaging television – it’s never flashy, but it will leave you coming back for more and hoping there’s more to come back to with a second season. It’s possible to enjoy Cruise’s portrayal and films while still understanding that this is absolutely the character that Child describes in the books and that readers envision in their imaginations. Give it a spin, and if enough of the fans who make the books bestsellers do so we might just have many more adventures to come with this big, hulking hobo of a man.

Related Topics: Amazon Prime

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he’s so damn young. He’s our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists ‘Broadcast News’ as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.

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