In the lean, mean thriller Jack Reacher, the actor plays an edgy, cold-blooded vigilante law enforcer.
Jack Reacher takes sheen off Tom Cruise's good-guy image
When Tom Cruise was first cast as Jack Reacher, fans were in uproar. Some even set up a Facebook page: "Tom Cruise Is Not Jack Reacher."
How could Cruise, they carped, play the hero created by the British author Lee Child? After all, the Mission: Impossible star is just 5 feet, 7 inches tall; Reacher, a former US military policeman turned justice-dispensing drifter, is 6 feet, 5 inches and 250 pounds - a giant of a man. Many readers, the so-called Reacher Creatures, called in vain for the little-known actor Ray Stevenson (who played Volstagg in Thor) to take the role.
With Reacher the star of 17 novels (most recently A Wanted Man) that have hitherto sold 60 million copies across 95 countries, it's not hard to see why so many readers felt so protective. Cruise admits he was sensitive to that, and how Child felt. "You know, he [Child] created the character. I had my own opinion that I didn't say to Lee and then he came back and pretty much reflected what I had felt about it. But had he said: 'Look, I'd rather not', I would not have played the character," Cruise told Reuters at the film's London premiere.
For his part, Child was delighted to see Cruise take the role. After all, a Jack Reacher movie had been in development for years, with the actors Brad Pitt, Hugh Jackman and Vince Vaughn all talked about as possible stars. But Cruise, who was responsible for bringing on the director Chris McQuarrie (who wrote the Second World War movie Valkyrie for him), is one of the few actors with the muscle to get it made.
Unsurprisingly, Child dismisses the fact Cruise looks nothing like his character. "With another actor you might get 100 per cent of the height but only 90 per cent of Reacher," he says. "With Tom, you'll get 100 per cent of Reacher with 90 per cent of the height."
You also get a lean, mean thriller that takes the sheen off Cruise's usual good-guy image. Here he's edgy and cold-blooded, a no-nonsense vigilante law-enforcer in the Dirty Harry mould.
The plot begins as a sniper murders five random passers-by in cold blood; Reacher gets involved with the case, investigating the innocence of the arrested suspect alongside the man's defence attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike). "It's not an action role for me. It's more cerebral," says Pike, comparing the film both to classic Hitchcock and 1970s action-thrillers such as The French Connection.
Best known for her role in the James Bond film Die Another Day, Pike notes that McQuarrie "took quite a lot of licence" with the source, amalgamating three women in the book. But she's "pleased" with the end result, she says.
"I think American female lawyers can get some pretty bad representation on screen. They can be pretty dull, quite austere and quite cold. But I wanted to feel that this woman is up against it [and] is someone we can recognise ourselves in. She's trying her best to be professional. She's not always succeeding. She's got too much on. Her firm isn't on her side and she's quite human."
Alongside Cruise and Pike, Jack Reacher features Robert Duvall and the filmmaker Werner Herzog in an inspired piece of casting, as the film's shadowy villain known only as The Zec, a survivor of a Russian Gulag prison camp.
If these veterans add an old-school charm to the film, so does the action, with its rough-hewn bar bawls and real-life car chases, Cruise roaring through the streets in a red-and-black Chevrolet Chevelle. As he so often does, the actor performed his own stunts - something that wowed Pike. "Tom is particularly diligent," she says. "He says he has to get into three headsets: one for fighting, one driving and one for acting. They're very different."
Whether there will be a Reacher franchise to run alongside Cruise's Mission: Impossible series will depend on the film's global box office tally. Sequels have been discussed - with 1997's debut Reacher novel Killing Floor a likely candidate for the next outing. Most importantly, Cruise is keen.
"I really hope we can come back to it," the actor told Total Film magazine. "There are so many different places we can take that character. He's such a rich character - an analogue character in a digital age."