Should Liam Neeson be playing Jack Reacher?

When I was at the annual international celebration of crime writing in Cleveland earlier this month — the Bouchercon — everyone seemed to be buzzing about the upcoming Tom Cruise picture based on one of Lee Child’s terrific novels about the adventures of ex-military cop Jack Reacher.

Few writers or fans that I talked with were happy about Cruise playing the title role in “Jack Reacher,” which is based on “One Shot,” an early novel in the series.

Child describes a big man in his books — well over 6 feet tall — and Cruise is a famously diminutive movie star.

At one of the Bouchercon panels the results of a poll asking the question, “Who should play Jack Reacher?” were released and the actor who came in first place was Liam Neeson. (Cruise was in the number four position in the poll, followed by “Anyone but Tom Cruise.”)

Neeson, who turned 60 last June, is about 20 years too old to be the Reacher of the novels, but the poll reflects the actor’s surprising emergence as a major action star over the past few years.

Starting with “Taken” in 2008 and continuing with “The Grey” last year and the current “Taken 2” Neeson has demonstrated considerable conviction in playing action roles, along with huge audience appeal (“Taken 2” brought in more than $100 million in its first two weeks in theaters).

The movie industry is still rather shocked by Neeson’s late-career success in the action genre — he spent more than 20 years working in movies primarily as a character actor before his fortunes changed with “Taken” — but it seems obvious that audiences are responding to the humanity and intelligence he has brought to stories that could have been empty exercises in style without him.

With Neeson in these roles, there is a real human being in jeopardy, so the stakes are much higher than they would be with Sylvester Stallone or even Bruce Willis playing the parts. Those two guys are movie stars from head to toe — Neeson seems like someone you might actually bump into on the street or sit next to on an airplane (in tourist class).

“Taken 2” is little more than an extended chase — in exotic Istanbul — but Neeson’s concern for his endangered ex-wife and daughter holds everything together. And while he is physically still more than up to the rigors of the running and fighting these movies demand, the character’s intelligence is what saves the day again and again.

I am withholding any judgement on Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher until the movie opens at Christmas — he’s a wonderful actor who was terrific in last year’s “Mission Impossible” sequel — but I can see why those mystery fans were so enthusiastic about Liam Neeson.

Joe Meyers

10 Responses

  1. Karen says:

    I have been thinking Liam Neeson would make a GREAT Jack Reacher even before I found this web site !! I don’t care that he is older than the character in the books.
    My second choice would be Idris Elba from the Luther TV series in the UK.

  2. Mike says:

    Liam neeson as reacher, without a doubt! He instantly popped into my head! Absolutely perfect

  3. Jody says:

    Liam Neeson IS Jack Reacher! Having tom cruise play him has destroyed my vision of Jack Reacher… I will not buy or watch any movie that has tom cruise portrayed as My Hero Jack Reacher! Liam Neeson would rock as Reacher!!!!!

  4. Tina ward says:

    I’m a big Neeson fan, and yes, he would make an excellent Reacher, However, when I read the description of Reacher in A Wanted Man as “a gorilla,”, I can’t help picturing Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) as Reacher. I know he’s not the actor Neeson is, but his role in Faster was very Reacher-like and his acting is getting better. I’m very disappointed that Lee Child agreed to Cruise as Reacher. Child went to great lengths in his books to portray Reacher as this big hulking intimidating dude, so that’s a critical part of the Reacher persona. If Cruise can make Reacher fans believe he’s Reacher (I’m trying very hard to keep an open mind), then he’s a much better actor than I ever gave him credit for.

  5. Asker says:

    Mark wahlberg should be reacher

  6. chris bloor says:

    It’s a travesty that Tom Cruise is playing Jack Reacher and I’m disappointed that Lee Child should have allowed it; sadly perhaps he’s just looking at the dollar signs which he assumes any film containing Tom Cruise will generate.
    But who should play the part? Difficult to say these days. Thirty or forty years ago Lee Marvin would have been my 1st choice, but today? Maybe Liam Neeson could fit the bill; he’s big and not very pretty – unlike Mr Cruise but just like the character created by Lee Child …. and he can act!

  7. John Gilmore says:

    Cruise did well on the modern Mission Impossible movies. He’s a “tux” actor. But in “Worth Dying For” Jack Reacher gets a busted nose. Really now, would TC ever do a movie where some low life gets to bust his schnozzola?

  8. Yikes! Why didn’t I think of Liam Neeson as Reacher? He would be perfect! Even at 60 years old.

  9. Kate Katcher says:

    I agree. Liam Neeson’s warmth and humanity make him a powerful leading man. Even in a charmer like “Love Actually”, you root for him to succeed.