REVIEW: ‘Reacher’ Season One Thrills as a Faithful Adaptation

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Reacher - But Why Tho (1)

Based on the 1997 novel Killing Floor by Lee Child, Reacher Season 1 brings Child’s longstanding novel series to life on Prime Video. The series follows, Jack Reacher, an ex-military police investigator turned drifter. While visiting a small town in Georgia, Reacher finds himself at the heart of a conspiracy that threatens to have him take the fall. How do you stop a 6 foot 5 inch, 250 pound, ex-military cop who has the investigation skills of Batman from unveiling the truth? The short answer is… you don’t. Season one of Reacher proves that time and time again. 

This isn’t the first time that Child’s work has been brought to life. You may remember the films Jack Reacher (2012) and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016) that placed action movie megastar Tom Cruise as the titular star. Cruise was able to overcome the obvious difference in stature between Cruise and Reacher, however, the films traded much of the crime thriller aspect that is prominent in the novels for a more action-packed series that fell flat with audiences by the sequel. An oversight that Reacher is largely able to correct.

Adapting novels to live-action is never easy.  There is always the risk of leaving pieces of the story out or suffering from rushed pacing to include it all. Reacher as an eight-episode series digs deeper into the characterization of Jack Reacher, the action, and the thriller in an attempt to capture Child’s story in its entirety. Leading the charge on this task is writer, producer, and showrunner Nick Santora (Prison Break). who is joined by a host of eight directors who all had their own episode to helm.

In a nutshell, the series hits all of the story points from start to finish as far as the adaptation is concerned. Killing Floor (1997) was the very first novel in the series and followed the first-person perspective of Jack Reacher.  From the start, there isn’t any major exposition on who Jack Reacher is or what his motives are. Throughout Reacher, the story and the characterization of who Jack Reacher plays out as he experiences it placing the viewer largely in the giant’s shoes. Reacher, played by Alan Ritchson (Titans), is a physical presence along with an analytical mind makes him a force to be reckoned with but that doesn’t stop the town of Margrave, Georgia from trying to bury him at every opportunity.

As a crime-action thriller, Reacher embodies the genre. Jack Reacher is a giant of a man and it would be easy for him to fall into the brainless meathead who punches his way through all his problems. While Reacher certainly has the ability to do so, the show wastes no time in showing that his years of experience as a military police investigator have sharpened his ability to read people and problem solve with the best of them. With that said, Reacher cracks his fair share of heads when words do not prevail. The action is brutal and gives viewers quality creative kills as Reacher uses all 6’5″ 250 pounds of military training. Further, Reacher does not shy away from taking the crime scenes directly from page to screen. Reading is one thing, but the way Reacher is able to bring these gruesome scenes to life would make Seven (1995) tip its hat.

One of the main areas where Reacher and the Killing Floor diverge is its increased emphasis on characters outside of the blonde behemoth and this is to the series benefit. On the side of Reacher is wound-tight chief of detectives Oscar Finely played by Malcolm Goodwin (iZombie) and the no-nonsense police officer Roscoe Conklin played by Willa Fitzgerald (The Goldfinch). As the duo help Reacher attempt to get to the root of criminal activities in Margrave, viewers get to spend time learning about their characters in ways that aren’t easily conveyed in first-person narration. The additional screentime and the near-perfect casting certainly brought a different layer to characters that were written twenty-five years ago.

Where the series falls a little short is some of the dialogue and scene transitions. There are times where interactions in Reacher feel as if I am watching a CWverse show. At times, I felt as if I watching Ritchson give his best Oliver Queen impression from Arrow. Reacher as a character is direct and to the point with little patience for things that are unnecessary. This leads some of his dialogue to be one-note and likely jarring in what many would consider a normal conversation. I am not sure if this has to do with different directors tackling each episode but it is present in the series’s biggest moment but it is certainly jarring at times.

To soften the edges of Reacher’s character, there are a number of flashbacks that take viewers back to his childhood as a military brat. While I think these flashbacks add context to his character that might not be present until future novels, the way in which they aren’t always the smoothest. Reacher will say a line or see an object and viewers are thrown back to the past. Again, similar to that of Arrow. The randomness in which did shake my attention at times and I wish the way they transitioned to them was integrated better. By the end of the series, the flashbacks more than pay off in the main story but getting there is rougher than I would have hoped.

Even though many of the large story beats from the Killing Floor are present, it doesn’t stop Reacher from throwing in a few twists and turns that even me in disbelief as a book reader. The changes are welcome and place book readers and show watchers on the same plane which makes for an enjoyable viewing experience no matter how you go in. The changes give characters more to do and it pays off. By including one of Reacher’s former military investigators, Frances Neagley played by Maria Sten (Swamp Thing), it is clear that there is an intention for Reacher to span multiple seasons. Neagley has made her appearance in multiple novels in the series but not in Killing Floor. I believe this leaves the door open to tell stories both before and after what we see in season one.

Reacher is Sherlock Holmes meets Commando in the best ways possible. Jack Reacher brings all the physical presence of an 80s action movie star while maintaining the mental ability of a 90s crime-thriller detective. The balance is struck well enough that the door is wide up open for a thriving series with over 20 novels of source material to pull from. With so many of the action series coming to an end on the big screen, this series brings that thrill to your home and is definitely worth the binge.

Season one of Reacher is available on Prime Video on February 4th.


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TL;DR

Reacher is Sherlock Holmes meets Commando in the best ways possible. Jack Reacher brings all the physical presence of an 80s action movie star while maintaining the mental ability of a 90s crime-thriller detective. The balance is struck well enough that the door is wide up open for a thriving series with over 20 novels of source material to pull from. With so many of the action series coming to an end on the big screen, Reacher brings that thrill to your home and is definitely worth the binge.