A hulking stranger, Jack Reacher, walks into a small Midwestern town in America, goes to a mom-and-pop restaurant, and orders a peach pie. That is when he is suddenly arrested by the authorities on account of being the prime suspect in a murder committed the night before. The catch is that the stranger just arrived in the town, so how is he involved? And if he is the killer, why and how does he do it? And if he isn’t, then who is the killer?
The series is based on Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, a humongously successful franchise following the exploits of one Jack Reacher.
He is a former major in the United States Army who roams around the country, taking odd jobs and getting involved in increasingly dangerous situations. He is a tall man of 6 feet 5 inches who lives in a pair of cheap jeans and shows no inclination towards buying expensive clothes. Ruthlessly proficient in hand-to-hand combat, he takes advantage of his size in combat situations. His characterization, as described by the author, is that of the knight-errant, a very Americanized paradigm, most notably seen in the western genre. In that regard, the ‘Reacher’ novels could be described as essentially neo-western in structure.
The 2012 movie, Jack Reacher, directed by Christopher McQuarrie and starring Tom Cruise, is a sore point for hardcore ‘Reacher’ fans. On the one hand, Cruise’s intensity and tenacity in doing his set-pieces and stunts do make him the perfect casting. On the other hand, his physicality (Cruise is 5 ft 7 in tall and brunette, a sharp contrast to the 6 ft 5 in tall, 250-pound blond powerhouse) drew massive criticism. However, Cruise’s screen presence and intensity complement what is essentially an old-school action thriller film, with a fantastic car chase and some expertly constructed hand-to-hand combat scenes. While not a faithful adaptation by any means, Cruise’s Jack Reacher was still a fantastic action film. The less we talk about the sequel, the better it is.
It is now 2022, and Amazon Studios has released ‘Reacher,’ the first season of an 8-episode long television show, essentially adapting the first book in the ‘Reacher’ series, “The Killing Floor.”
The remarkable achievement that Amazon Studios has showcased is showing off a synergistic mode of creating content. By adapting huge franchises into television shows, Amazon is essentially maintaining the format of reading a book and getting immersed in a world for hours and hours. It makes strangely perfect sense that the company responsible for being the biggest monopoly in selling digitized novels is also adapting these and capitalizing upon an already built-in fanbase. It could almost be a cynical approach, except they are good at it. From adaptations of Bosch and Jack Ryan to the reboot of the sci-fi series The Expanse, fans had reason to be optimistic about this ‘Reacher’ adaptation.
For the most part, their optimism was rewarded. ‘Reacher’ Season 1 is a faithful adaptation of the first novel, with a few minor tweaks. Reacher (Alan Ritchson) walks into Margrave, Georgia, and is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. Soon, he is embroiled in a criminal conspiracy involving counterfeit money.
Here, we finally have a physically impressive and faithful recreation of Jack Reacher, played by Alan Ritchson, with his 6 ft. 4 in. of glory. The bigger question is, would that be enough? Ritchson as Reacher is terrific in the physical aspects and the action set-pieces and generally looks intimidating. He also brings a form of old-school charm to his character, a light sarcastic sense of humor. However, Reacher is not shown as a vulnerable character, and thus, Ritchson brings a brand of stoicism to his character. The story also expects you to take into account a lot of loopholes regarding Reacher’s origin story in the current landscape. It is nearly impossible to live in 2022 without leaving a digital footprint; wisely, Nick Santora and his writing team do not attempt to explain the issue, instead of sidestepping it in favor of moving the plot forward.
The plot, and thus the story, moves fast, with the stakes rising higher as the conspiracy slowly gets revealed. Thankfully, the plot stops shy of being overtly ridiculous; the story’s in-universe explanation of events is believable enough that it doesn’t take you out of the story. More than Ritchson as Reacher, it is the supporting cast that impresses me. Malcolm Goodwin, playing Finlay, brings the exasperated, straight-laced lawman to life. He is the perfect foil to Reacher, who is an unstoppable force prone to violence and leaving bodies in his wake. Goodwin and Ritchson have easy-going antagonistic chemistry, which blossoms into a burgeoning friendship as the story progresses and the layers of their characters get revealed. Reacher’s relationship with Roscoe Conklin, played with an easy-going yet confident charm by Willa Fitzgerald, showcases the side of Reacher as a person attracted to strong, physically confident women. But ‘Reacher,’ the show, impresses with its monologues, especially the ones that Reacher delivers, where he explains how to break the heads of his next group of opponents’ heads, how events occurred, or how each level of the conspiracy fits into this jigsaw of a plot.
‘Reacher,’ the show, is neither deep nor does it try to be. There are moments of emotional poignancy, especially dealing with Reacher’s past as a military brat, and his relationship with his older brother Joe. Having seen him in Titans, I am aware of Ritchson’s capability as an actor to emote in vulnerable or trying moments. Sadly, maybe it is because of how he is briefed or how the character is written, but he does come off as wooden during certain key moments.
The show is mostly bland in terms of cinematography during the initial run of episodes, but during the action sequences, you get flashes of technical flair. Be it a single long-take fight scene in Episode 2 or the quick editing during the hand-to-hand combat sequences, and the positives sidestep the contrivances of the plot or the mostly weak antagonists throughout the show’s run.
Overall, though, ‘Reacher’ satisfied a specific itch in my viewing habits: the very basic action hero, western, or procedural fan. And like Bosch, another Amazon Prime Video staple, I expect the same consistency in terms of storytelling as the show progresses for future seasons. Like in the books, each season would effectively be a reset, but like Child’s consistency as a writer, the show manages to deliver a fun action thriller with shades of neo-western. There are noticeable flaws, but since this is a show geared up for the long haul, I am optimistic about its improvement. But for now, this satisfies the reader in me, who loves a good, racy paperback thriller, and isn’t that what I should expect as a fan?
Read More: ‘Reacher’ Season 1: Ending, Explained