Can Tom Cruise become Jack Reacher on screen?

From July 23, 2011 — One of the favorite games readers have played with bestselling novels for years is: Who should play X in the movie version of Y?

At the moment, many of the people who have loved Lee Child’s series of thrillers about ex-military policeman Jack Reacher are fuming about the announcement last week that Tom Cruise would be playing the part in the forthcoming “One Shot.”

Typical of the postings on Lee Child’s website last week is this one from “David, a Lee Child fan”: “…I am not in the least excited about TC in the role as Reacher. What a disaster. I sympathize with all the people who have posted here and elsewhere expressing their outrage at the idea. One of the most colossal miscastings of all time!”

Another irate reader commented: “Tom Cruise is too short, too thin, too delicate, and too fake to play Reacher, besides that his movies have not been very successful lately. Every time a new Reacher novel comes out, I will think about Tom cruise and this will ruin the book for me. Please Mr. Child try to stop this insanity.”

The casting might ruin the books for another Lee Child fan: “I cannot stress enough how bad a decision this. This may actually be the worst cast of a role I have ever ever heard of. I don’t care how they play this, they cannot get away from Reacher being a huge guy in the books, not being especially handsome with sandy hair. You just don’t get any further from TC than the description of Reacher in the books.”

“I just can’t believe it. All they are doing here is ignoring the character and going for the money. It’s just about the money, nothing else, because TC will pull the crowds in.”

“Thing is it could kill the franchise before it starts, because if people go see that movie, then read the books, they will be like wtf? And it might put them off either reading any more books, going to any further Reacher films, or both. So it could end up not gaining any more fans of the series, which is probably what Lee is hoping for.”

The criticism echoes the outcries that met the selection of Tom Hanks as the intellectual detective in “The DaVinci Code” and in the sequel “Angels and Demons” that followed. Despite the controversy with readers, the Hanks casting was endorsed by the moviegoers who made both pictures into international box office blockbusters.

I have to admit that I’m one of those readers who doesn’t always get a strong physical image of a protagonist in my mind’s eye as I enjoy a novel, so I don’t tend to be upset when a filmmaker takes some liberties with an author’s description.

Just as a whole slew of actors can play Hamlet, it doesn’t bother me when a character such as Jason Bourne is played by Richard Chamberlain in one adaptation and then Matt Damon in several others. The only movie version of a crime novel series that ever appeared to damage the books was the appalling 1991 “V.I. Warshawski” (below) which was so bad and so financially disastrous that it appeared to take the wind out of writer Sara Paretsky’s sails for a few years (she did eventually come back as strong as ever after the film was forgotten).

Frankly, I don’t understand why so many readers care so much about the movie versions of books they love. How can any adaptation compare with the imaginative experience we have connecting with a good novelist?

Jack Reacher is a strong enough character on paper to survive whatever might happen to the role in Cruise’s hands. Let’s not forget that Anne Rice opposed using the same actor in “Interview with the Vampire” — because he didn’t fit the description in the novel — but then retracted her criticism when she saw the 1994 Neil Jordan film.

Joe Meyers