Thursday, August 11, 2011
IN WHICH I DISCUSS THE DUMBEST CASTING CHOICE IN THE HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD, AND TRY NOT TO BLAME IT ON TOM CRUISE
One of the hardest things in life is not succumbing to all-encompassing cynicism. All too often people fucking suck, and make horribly short-sighted decisions, and basically make you want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them, screaming “ARE YOU FUCKING RETARDED?” Naturally, because the arts present an idealized and heightened version of reality, this bullshit is the most exasperating in that arena; the simultaneous lack of any real consequence and utter stupidity of the behavior of people in the arts—and particularly show biz—is perhaps the dumbest dumb known to man. And (totally blame this grandiose buildup on the fact that I've been bumping Watch The Throne on repeat the last couple days) even within showbiz, even compared to the legendarily stupid music industry, no one goes full retard like a movie executive.
While the history of stupid decisions in Hollywood is long enough and brimming with such robust idiocy that Ken Burns could do one of his zillion-part documentaries and not even get to any of the deep cuts, I would submit that we have recently borne witness to the high (low?) water mark of the art form. I speak of course of the recent announcement that Tom Cruise is set to play the lead in the screen adaptation of Lee Child's novel One Shot.
A bit of background is necessary here, so for the uninitiated, a brief history of Lee Child. Born Jim Grant, he was a television producer for many years in England (where he's from) before being laid off and deciding, “I'm going to write novels.” His first, Killing Floor, was released in 1997, a tale of a very-recently-ex-military policeman named Jack Reacher who decides, after leaving the military, to travel the United States, which country he's seen very little of, despite spending his entire life to date first as a son of a US military man and then as one himself. In short order, Reacher finds himself neck-deep in intrigue and in the schemes of bad men doing bad things (and, being a very tall man, being neck-deep in shit means there's a lot of it; note Reacher's height, he's described in every single book as being six-foot-five) and he has to kick fucking ass.
Since then, Child has written more than a dozen other novels, each featuring Reacher, a black-coffee-drinking Yankee fan in the fashion of yours truly, except that's where the similarities end. Reacher is the alpha badass of modern fiction. He's not a terribly naturalistic character, but that's the whole point of Reacher: he's smarter than everybody else, a better fighter, a better shot, blows shit up cooler than anyone else, and he gets laid just about every book because that's just the way things go (and lest one roll one's eyes and go “oh, more macho dude fantasy,” well over half of Child's regular readers are women, nearly all of whom would fuck Reacher in a heartbeat). He's a terrific character, abetted perfectly by Child's economical prose, brilliantly calibrated pacing, and meticulously researched, completely credible world-building. After Killing Floor, there were a handful of kind of shaky outings where Child found his footing and discovered what worked and didn't about Reacher, but around book six or seven he totally hit his stride and now, the publication of a new Reacher fills me with an excitement usually reserved for a new Radiohead album, fantasy football draft, or Steven Soderbergh picture. And Reacher lets me down way less than the last two.
I'd be lying out my ass if I tried to claim that I was objective about Reacher. I'm not remotely objective. When I heard that the movie rights to a number of Reacher books had been optioned, I immediately went, “Cool,” and then “Who in the sweet name of Jesus H. Fuck is going to play Reacher?” Since I enjoy the intellectual exercise casting movie versions of favorite books, and I like a good challenge, I started thinking. Several nosebleeds and sobbing fits later, I remembered that Google exists, and I came up with this.
While containing a couple bonafide “what the fuck”s—Bob Saget is 6'4”? Holy shit—that list ultimately isn't all that helpful, as there isn't a single dude on that list who could play Reacher. After a bit more cogitation I came up with the perfect plan: build a time machine, go back to about 1985, track down the very tall and very awesome Clancy Brown—
—then convince the head of Paramount to cast him with the old “Dude, trust me, this guy's gonna be a fuckin huge star, oh and by the way if you ever want to see your family alive you'll do as I ask, yuppie plankton” gambit. Realizing the R&D necessary to build the time machine was a bit out of my grasp (Paramount's, too; Universal charges an arm and a leg in rental fees to use Doc Brown's DeLorean, greedy fucks) I went back to square one. Who the fuck was big enough, scary enough, between the ages of 35-45, and sufficiently bankable or the kind of guy a studio marketing department can convince the media is an up-and-coming star? Eventually, I resigned myself to it being a Kobayashi Maru and figured Paramount was just buying the options to have them, and figured well shit, at least Lee got paid.
Set in a nameless small city a couple hours' drive from Indianapolis, One Shot opens with a man making careful preparations to murder several people coming out of the city's main office building with a scoped rifle from a parking garage. His plan goes off without a hitch, and the cops begin an urgent investigation, finding a perfect trail of evidence leading to an ex-Army sniper named James Barr, whom they arrest in a drugged stupor at his house. When he's able to speak, he tells his lawyer (hired by his sister) that the cops have the wrong man, and he asks for Jack Reacher. No one there knows who the hell Jack Reacher is, but they're about to find out, as Reacher's on his way there without their needing to summon him.
There's history between Reacher and Barr: when Reacher, about to get fucked silly in Miami by a Norwegian dancer, sees a report about Barr's sniper act, he drops her ass on the spot and hops a bus to Indiana. So right there we know something's up, because no sane man kicks Norwegian dancer chicks to the curb unless there's a really, really good reason. Reacher arrives on the scene only to find Barr in a coma because he looked at another inmate in the city jail wrong and got his ass handed to him, and informs Barr's sister—who's thoroughly convinced of her brother's innocence, of course—that he's not there to help Barr. Still, why the fuck would Barr ask for him, then?
Clearly, since this all happens in like the first thirty pages of the book, Something Is Up. I'll stop before spoiling stuff, but you can probably venture an educated guess or two about what happens from there. Suffice to say, a major plot point that complicates Reacher's ability to investigate What The Fuck Is Going On involves him being six-foot-five. The entire climax revolves around Reacher being strong enough to crush a guy to death with his bare hands. And, completely above and beyond the physical stuff, watching Reacher think is one of the coolest games in town, because he's really smart and sees things from unconventional perspectives. And he flirts with one of the heroines by swapping George Orwell quotes with her; they each get a little playfully aroused at the other's erudition and wit.
As currently written, One Shot is not filmable, because the role of Reacher is impossible to cast. Lee Child himself acknowledged this, talking about Tom Cruise being cast in the role, following that by hoping for the best, because really, what the hell can the guy say? No one wants to go all Clive Cussler on a motherfucker and whine about his authorial vision being violated by hack filmmakers, because then you sound like an asshole.
The thing is, if One Shot turns out to be a good movie—something Tom Cruise has made quite a few of over the years—it will do so by being a very, very loose adaptation of the book. Director Christopher McQuarrie is working from an adaptation by Josh Olson (who wrote A History of Violence, which was a good fuckin movie). McQuarrie has done some good writing—The Usual Suspects was fucking tight, revisionist dickheads whining about the final twist rendering the whole rest of the movie moot be damned, and The Way of the Gun may not have gone anywhere, but it has the line “Shut that cunt's mouth or I'll come over there and fuckstart her head,” which is one of the five greatest lines of dialogue ever written, fo realz, it's just so crazy and wrong and meaningless it's fucking brilliant—but as for directing, well . . . everything after “Shut that cunt's mouth or I'll come over there and fuckstart her head” goes downhill in The Way of the Gun. And, lest we forget, McQuarrie and Tom Cruise worked together on that horseshit Nazi picture, which was, in case my choice of adjectives is ambiguous, a bunch of horseshit. So we'll see.
I'm still not happy about the Tom Cruise thing, though. The way I see it, if he wanted to be in a thriller playing an ex-military drifter who investigates a crime, he could have his agent pick up the phone and say to just about any writer in the known universe, “Hey, Tom Cruise wants you to write him a script,” and bam, there you go. Or, if it was Chris McQuarrie going, “I have a relationship with Tom Cruise” and the studio got all fluttery, first, nut up Chris. You know actors who are at least fucking five foot ten. Fuck, give Ryan Phillippe some steroids and bone up on your low-angle shots and you're at least doing better than fucking Tom Cruise. Second, if the studio had McQuarrie over the barrel and it wasn't really his fault and the only way they were going to make the movie was “you know, maybe with a . . . I don't know, like a . . .” in that “Unless you say the words 'Tom Cruise,' McQuarrie, you're gonna be shoveling dog shit in Kamchatka for your crimes against the Soviet state” passive-aggressive way, then fuck Hollywood, right in the ear.
Because really, this isn't Tom Cruise's fault, or Chris McQuarrie's, really. They didn't break the movie business, it was this way when they found it. The fault is with whichever coked-up, solipsistic, Entourage-watching, no-ironic-perspective-on-it-having, yuppie fuckface sat behind his desk, not having read the book, having the cognitive function of a fucking fossilized wooly mammoth turd, jerking off to himself in the mirror because he got to use the phrase “I'll greenlight this with a, like, Tom Cruise in the lead” for the first time. Whoever you are, I hope I never meet you, because I'm going to put my fucking fist through the back of your skull, you motherfucker. Reacher-style.
(drops the mic)