FOR devotees of Jack Reacher, the hulking anti-hero created by best-selling British writer Lee Child, his big screen debut played by a Hollywood superstar would seem to be a cause for celebration.
But many ‘‘Reacher creatures’’, as his ardent fans refer to themselves, are seething because they believe the actor cast to fill the tough guy’s size 13 boots does not measure up.
The fictional character is an unkempt giant of a man, 6ft 5in tall and tipping the scales at more than 15stone, with a big chest, ice-blue eyes and messy blond hair, who deploys his size to advantage in his frequent fights.
In the eponymous new film, however, the ex-US military policeman is portrayed by Tom Cruise, a clean-cut heart-throb who is 5ft 7in and widely reported to have worn hidden shoe platforms for photographs alongside his former wives and leading ladies.
Aficionados of the series of 17 novels, which have sold 60million copies worldwide, have been venting their dismay in caustic comments about the actor’s stature, immaculate locks and well-groomed looks as the film premiers.
On a mocking Facebook page entitled ‘‘Tom Cruise is not Jack Reacher’’, one recent poster compared the choice for the eponymous title role to casting Ronnie Corbett, the diminutive bespectacled comedian, as James Bond.
Another observed witheringly: ‘‘Reacher would pick Cruise up, dangle him out in front of him and then slam him up against the wall with his feet scrabbling away about 2ft off the ground.’’
But Cruise has an ardent defender in the shape of the writer who introduced the looming proportions of Reacher to the world in his first book 15 years ago.
Child made clear that Cruise should not be sold short for his performance in the film.
‘‘It is puzzling and a little disappointing to me that people are attacking Tom Cruise when they have not seen the movie,’’ said Child, who had no input on the casting and no formal role in the adaptation of his 2005 novel One Shot.
‘‘Jack Reacher is physically specific to the books,’’ he said. ‘‘The fact is that there are no actors who are 6ft 5in giants out there so he was never going to be played by an actor that size.
‘‘I have seen the film and Cruise is terrific, he really nails Reacher. They should give it a chance. When they watch the movie, they might find it odd for the first few moments, but then they’ll be sucked in.’’
Yet back in 2000, when there was earlier talk of making a film, Child mused that the role might be played by a traditional celluloid hard-man such as Russell Crowe or even an American footballer who shared Reacher’s physical dimensions. ‘‘Definitely not Tom Cruise,’’ he noted at the time. ‘‘He’s too short.’’
Indeed, director Christopher McQuarrie has acknowledged the trepidation he felt when he approached Child to tell him he had cast Cruise in the role.
‘‘There was a very carefully prepared speech, a rationale behind that decision. All of it was very carefully articulated,’’ McQuarrie said.
‘‘And when we got to the end of the speech, Lee just said, ‘Why wouldn’t I want the biggest movie star in the world to play this character?’ It was great.’’
Child, 58, whose real name is Jim Grant, was born in Coventry but now lives in New York where he is working on his 18th book. He only turned to writing at 40 when he was made redundant by Granada Television in 1995 after working on productions such as Brideshead Revisited, The Jewel in the Crown and Cracker.
He has since become one of the most successful British writers in history and counts Bill Clinton among his loyal readers.
Reacher is a drifter who comes across crimes and mysteries and dispenses his vigilante justice as he travels across the US. Asked about the success of his dominant figure, Child said: ‘‘I came to the conclusion that he’s a modern version of an ancient character, the mysterious stranger, the knight errant, who has existed in the storytelling of all cultures.’’
In One Shot, Reacher reluctantly agrees to help defend an ex-Army sniper accused of gunning down five unarmed victims and soon discovers troubling evidence of a cover-up when he begins to investigate.
The film adaptation also stars Rosamund Pike and Robert Duvall, with a cameo appearance by Child himself.
But many fans remain deeply unimpressed by the Cruise casting and some have turned their frustration on Child, arguing that he has been ‘‘bought off’’.
They will, it appears, have to accept the reality of Hollywood, however. For Paramount Pictures is betting on Cruise’s star power, if not his stature, to turn the Reacher series into a lucrative new franchise, with more films already being worked on. The Sunday Telegraph, London