The QT

Tuesday 23 July 2024

Boxing Clever – Reacher

Every week, Michael Telfer – aka Mike TV – recommends a box set to crack open. This week’s pick is a literal literary giant.
Alan Ritchson as the indomitable Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher is a retired Military Police officer, formerly of the US Army. He is the lead character in a fantastically successful series of books written by British author Lee Child, which have sold over 100 million copies worldwide.

There are 28 Reacher novels in all, and I’ve currently read 27 and a half of them. Some are brilliant, some are ok, some are fairly bad and one was so wretched that I couldn’t bring myself to finish it, despite being a faithful and largely forgiving fan of the series.

Two film adaptations were released in 2012 and 2014, controversially starring Tom Cruise in the lead role. I say controversially because Tom Cruise is small enough to avoid paying VAT on his clothes and Jack Reacher is massive.

Unfortunately for Tom, Reacher’s massiveness is quite a fundamental part of the character.

Lee Child said at the time that “Reacher’s size in the books is a metaphor for an unstoppable force, which Cruise portrays in his own way.” Almost nobody was convinced.

As a result the films were largely disliked or boycotted altogether by the fans of the books, and after two attempts Paramount cut their losses.

Reacher attracts the attention of the FBI in season one

So when Amazon announced they were making a TV adaptation of the books in 2019 there was a sense of nervous excitement. Who would they cast as the lead role? Could they pull it off?

The answer to the first question quickly turned out to be Alan Ritchson, a jobbing TV and film actor known for appearing in shows such as Titans and Blood Drive (no, me either) and for being irrefutably massive.

And thanks in no small part to Ritchson’s casting, the answer to the second question was a resounding and brutal yes.

Ritchson is a beast. He embodies Reacher perfectly from the first frame of the first episode, where we find our oversized antihero cramped into a diner booth ordering pie. Within seconds he’s surrounded by armed local police, but his pulse never goes above 58.

Reacher teams up with Margrave police officers Oscar Finaly (Malcolm Goodwin) and Roscoe Conklin (Willa Fitzgerald)

You could be forgiven for briefly wondering whether Ritchson is slightly too clean cut or handsome to play the grizzled character from the novel, but any concerns on this front evaporate the second the punches start flying, which doesn’t take very long.

The Reacher books are deliciously violent, with the damage wrought by Reacher’s breeze block fists described in vivid detail. The TV show embraces this theme and Ritchson is entirely convincing as somebody who relishes brawling and is more than capable of cracking skulls.

The first season follows the first and possibly best Reacher novel, Killing Floor. The plot twists and turns as Reacher reluctantly finds himself drawn into a large and sophisticated criminal enterprise, which he ultimately has no choice but to confront head on.

Reacher gets his old crew back together in season 2

The second season follows the novel Bad Luck and Trouble, which sees Reacher team up with his old army division to investigate the death of a former colleague. The source novel may not be quite as good as Killing Floor, but the wider character group works well for TV and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of the characters pop up again in future seasons, of which I’m sure there will be several.

We already know that the third season has started filming and will follow the plot of the novel Persuader, which is a very strong choice in my book.

Reacher is slick, well produced and acted, and provides a worthy portrayal of a much loved literary behemoth. The violence is hugely enjoyable but Jack Reacher didn’t get to the rank of Major without also being a very astute detective, and the series works well as a thriller and even a whodunnit as well as an action romp.

What next?

If you enjoyed Reacher you should try out the following box sets:

Jack Ryan (Amazon Prime)

Amazon Prime have another hugely successful literary adaptation (and another Jack) available to stream with Jack Ryan, based on the Tom Clancy character.

Fans of 90s cinema will be aware that Ryan’s film ventures were more successful than Reacher’s, with The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games and Clear And Present Danger all being big box office hits.

The TV series focuses more on Jack Ryan’s earlier years as a young CIA analyst who frequently finds himself closer to the action than he would like. John Krasinski is excellent in the lead role.

The Old Man (Disney Plus)

The Old Man is yet another brilliant book adaptation. It follows Dan Chase (Jeff Bridges), a former CIA operative and war veteran living off-the-grid in hiding with only his dogs for company.

His new life implodes when he kills a home intruder and a thrilling game of cat and mouse ensues with FBI Assistant Director Harold Harper (John Lithgow), with whom Chase shares a dubious past.

As you might imagine, The Old Man is slightly more contemplative and measured than Reacher, but when Chase is cornered he comes out fighting and he is definitely not somebody you want to be on the wrong side of.

24 (Disney Plus)

When 24 was released in 2001 it broke the mould for action television. Each episode followed an hour in the life of Jack (yep, another one) Bauer (played memorably by Kiefer Sutherland) as he battled to save the lives of the President, his team, his family and probably most of the US.

24 was addictive, especially in the days when you actually had to wait for each episode to come round, and each hour finished on a cliff hanger finale that would keep you guessing all week.

After 201 episodes and nine seasons the plots do lose some credibility, and the famous tension wanes slightly, but at it’s best there was nothing like 24.

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