When a bloody body is found at a nearby underpass, the sleepy town of Margrave, Georgia is ill-prepared for what – and who – will follow. Jack Reacher – a massive man with barely a whisper of an electronic footprint and apparently just the clothes on his very wide frame – arrives in town with a lot of questions to ask but willing to give very few answers. It’s not entirely unreasonable that the local police – including by-the-book, Harvard-educated Chief Detective Oscar Finlay and the younger, more pragmatic police officer Roscoe Conklin – immediately consider him a potential suspect, though they each have different ways of handling that.
When it becomes clear that Reacher isn’t the culprit, everyone hopes he’ll just exit as quickly as he arrived, but as the identity of the body is confirmed, there’s little chance of that happening.
Reacher now has a very personal reason to stay and Finlay and Roscoe have a real problem. They may not approve or want Reacher’s particular set of skills ploughing through their streets and lives, complicating their investigation, but it will be practically impossible to contain such a force-of-nature. When more bodies start to pile up, killed in a professional and overt way that suggests that the people behind it believe they can and will avoid all consequence, it also becomes obvious that events are quickly spiraling out of control.
Deprived of resources and with a dwindling circle of those they can trust, Reacher’s questionable methods may be the only thing keeping Finlay and Roscoe from being the next victims, but can they all survive long enough to find out the truth?
When Tom Cruise was selected to play Jack Reacher in two big-screen outings – in 2012 and a surprise follow-up in 2016 – many sets of eyeballs rolled back in their respective heads in disbelief. How, some people asked, was an infamously not-tall actor going to play a character who was (in the words of the sourced novels) ‘scary and off-putting‘, built like the size of a building and a good foot (if not, frankly, an entire leg) taller? It would not be the first time Cruise’s casting had caused concern amongst the faithful and despite his consistent A-List status and track-record, it’s likely no-one predicted his Lestat cosplay in 1994’s Interview with the Vampire. However, Cruise does have undeniable type of charisma and a legendary work-ethic which often overcomes hurdles and those movies worked well enough judged on their own merits. Author Lee Child savvily noted that fans of his Jack Reacher books were perhaps more perturbed than those who were meeting Reacher for the first time on-screen.
Speed forward to 2022 and Jack is making his streaming debut on Amazon Video (not surprising as the platform has already been the home of other uber-book franchise adaptations such as Jack Ryan and Bosch). In an eight-part starter-pack modelled on Lee Child’s Killing Floor novel, the first to feature Reacher, there’s no short-cutting. Alan Ritchson strides into frame looking like the kind of man who won his college football championship single-handedly and is now channeling the best of Johnny Cash while waiting for a Terminator call-up or an XXL Marvel Universe role. While Cruise’s gait usefully defied the character’s abilities and therefore put his antagonists on the wrong foot, Ritchson’s version is the kind to whom you already, instinctively give a wide birth. When he strides across the street, the asphalt whimpers and when he sits down for a slice of pie at the diner, he lingers like an unexploded grenade. He’s the strong, silent type offering the minimum number of words needed to make people go away, unless he’s deducting and cold-reading a situation. If it’s the latter he can give a dissertation worthy of Sherlock Holmes.
Ritchson has been around for a while, mainly guesting on various shows, but is probably best known for his recent run as ‘Hawk’ in Titans. There’s little doubt that his beefed-up body and role in Reacher will be his new calling-card. As noted, the role requires him to carry the show on broad shoulders, continually helped by camera angles designed to highlight them…but it also needs him to limit his emotional range to a brusque, no-nonsense, weathered and superior tone. The dialogue ranges between brief, clever and ridiculous (going from scenes that feel like they’re delivering punchlines from ’80s bargain bin actioners to casual but absurd observations such as the shift in degrees of the moon from one night to another). That minimalist approach means it’s ultimately hard to calculate if Ritchson is underselling or overselling the stoicism of our lead… but it mostly works and when it doesn’t, there’s always some well-choreographed fights to break out as punctuation.
Willa Fitzgerald (Little Women, Scream: The TV Series and soon to be seen in Mike Flanagan’s much-anticipated The Fall of the House of Usher) is the show’s other main strength. She gives Roscoe a sense of pragmatic charm, not willing to be condescended to by the new arrival in town but not so by-the-book that she’s not going to give him some latitude when it’s clear that Reacher is far better equipped than her potentially corrupt police department to deal with the ensuing chaos that’s arrived on their doorstep… and she ends up being the one Reacher respects the most (and, importantly, trusts, a commodity that’s in ever-decreasing supply as people’s agendas are revealed). There’s solid chemistry between the leads that nicely simmers early on without immediately boiling over. Malcolm Goodwin (iZombie) plays Roscoe’s boss, Finlay, delivering a literally buttoned-up Bostonian whose attempt at a quiet job is utterly demolished by Reacher’s arrival. The way that the three characters interact, very reluctantly and with acidic barbs at first, is one of the keys to success.
To the point and unapologetic with metaphor, this is a series that has a solitary thunderclap and one word as its ten second title sequence – the only thing less subtle would be Chuck Norris whistling the Star-spangled Banner. Sandwiched somewhere between mainstream fare like Prison Break and the Triple-F factor (‘fighting, fucking and felons’) maxim of Cinemax‘s strictly mature-audience Banshee, this Amazon series is fueled by well-regulated testosterone distilled to a slightly more commercial degree. Like a hundred westerns and the films inspired by such, this is the stranger coming to town to sort things out kind of story we’ve all seen before in one way or another. Staying inside the predictable but guilty-pleasure format, it is played entirely straight, delivering its irony and humour without cracking a smile, while simultaneously making you wince to the cracking of skulls and other skeletal parts. Ritchson handles the physical aspects well and the up-close-and-personal choreography is unforgivingly convincing. There’s full-frontal nudity, but in the first couple of episodes it amounts to crime-scenes victims rather than anything more salacious – though later on its more overt.
In the long term you may see the flaws, foibles and suspension-of-disbelief more unforgivingly exposed for the silliness it is, but in the moment, the mix of cold beer, hot banter and ballistic bruising is a throwback romp that would make early Eastwood proud…
- Guilty-pleasure factor10