Read the book. Saw the movie. Read the book.
And a conclusion? I have two of them.
1. Tom Cruise is not Jack Reacher and never will be … but the movie is definitely watchable. I recommend it. Cruise is too short, too boyish, too Tom Cruise-y to be anything but Tom Cruise. I still would like to see a Reacher film made with a big guy in the title role. Recently, I recommended Dwayne Johnson for the role. But once the movie begins, it is possible to see it not as a Reacher movie, but as a pretty good action/whodunit film.
2. Seeing the movie, and re-reading the book almost immediately after, led to me believing the movie in many ways is better than the book. I know this is not supposed to happen. The book is always better.
But Lee Child wants us to believe a whole bunch of unbelievable stuff (even more than usual) in this book, and the movie skates past a lot of that or eliminates it — with one major exception.
In both film and book, a sniper shoots to death five people in a town. In both book and movie it is a scarcely believable plot device.
This aspect of the plot involves the bad guy (an ancient and evil survivor of the Soviet gulag system) ordering five people killed to disguise the fact that he wanted only one of them dead.
The one person needed dead, in both book and film, is a woman who owns a quarry. She lives alone. She is a widow in both movie and film, and in the book she lives in a big house in the suburbs and why wouldn’t the bad guys just sneak into her house, kill her quietly and let the cops believe it was a burglary gone bad? Instead, a sniper mows down five people, and that’s easier/more sensible for the bad guys?
The movie improves on the book in the final confrontation. The film needs Reacher to be lucky with his shooting as well as his avoidance of bullets (especially when closing in on the bad guys while driving a compact car).
But the book calls for Reacher to walk through hundreds of yards of Indiana fields while being sprayed by the frigid water dispensed by circle-irrigating sprinklers so that he can reduce his body temperate enough (or perhaps have a shield of cold water on his body) so that he will not be seen in thermal imaging inside the house/fortress of the bad guys.
The book also has Reacher, all 250 pounds of him, walk around a century-old house without a floorboard making so much as a creak. He is the lightest-on-his-feet 250-pounder ever; the bad guys never hear him, even when he’s a few feet away.
The book also has him kill four guys pretty much with his bare hands, including a perhaps-fatal knife toss. As well as (I think) the only example in the 16 Reacher novels in which he hugs a guy to death. (I bet some Reacher Creature has counted how many people the character has killed, in 16 books. Has to be close to 100.)
In the film … he’s just shooting people. Much more effective, generally, than hugging a guy to death.
The book also ends with two prime villains still alive, and headed for trial, and how is Reacher going to avoid being subpoenaed? Sure, he’s a loner and all, and hard to find, but wouldn’t he be found if the FBI were looking for him?
In the movie, all the bad guys are dead at the end. Much, much tidier. Reacher can be on the first bus outta Dodge and catch a few winks before he reaches the next town that needs cleaning up.
One more note on Jack Reacher, the movie. It was compelling enough, even in the first 30 minutes, which is exposition-heavy, that not a single person in the theater left. Which I have never seen in three-plus years in the UAE. Somebody here always is bored or offended by a movie and gets up and leaves. Too many cultural boundaries, from the multi-ethnic population. Someone will be unhappy.
But none of the crowd of 100 or more left. No one.
So. Tom Cruise as Reacher? No. Never. “Jack Reacher” as a successful movie? Yes. Absolutely.
The book always better than the movie? Not in this case.