CAN YOU REACH?
I watched the first six episodes of the new Amazon Prime streamer REACHER (Amazon Studios, Blackjack Films Inc., Paramount Television, Skydance Television) yesterday.
Hungry for good drama (I wonder why?), Reacher gave me something to get my dramatic teeth into. I chewed. It tasted so-so, as so many things do when you've tasted most things. But I took another bite. And then another. And I got beat down, Reacher style: Used to film screenplay beath-sheets as I am, I found I had to adjust to the episodic nature of the narrative. Reacher made me realise just how different writing for film and writing for TV/VOD is. Films screenplays have (genre dependent) more metronomic beat-sheets. Film screenplays tend to stroll when they are typically period and typically romantic dramas; they walk faster and with a direction (even if it is circuitous) clearly in mind if they are thrillers; and they sprint when they are action-thrillers/dramas, with frequent stops to draw breaths.
Episodic scripts like those for Reacher are inherently long winded. They are usually very conversational. This is because there is more screen time to fill, and because episodic scripts are more like the novels they are often based on, if they are: they have many pages, and they go into much detail. They go around the narrative houses where a thriller film script will smash right through the walls.
A bit like Jack reacher does.
REACHER the VOD serial exemplifies this understanding well. It dawdles, as expected. Jack Reacher wanders around looking for someone to damage. His new allies learn how to deal with him and learn that they can trust him. His form of justice is old school (Old Testament, actually), and in time they, both cops, abandon their by-the-book due process in favour of Reacher’s more direct, bone-crushing approach. There are cliched bad guys whom we know will get their comeuppance when the time comes.
Watching Reacher, it occured to me that writing for feature film and writing episodic drama are so different that new screenwriters and script writers should learn to do one or the other - not both. If you become an expert at feature film screenwriting or episodic script writing, the shape of those distinct forms should become embedded in your creative subconscious to the extent that they become instinctive. The other form will then seem unusual and not reflexive. If you're Aaron Sorkin this doesn't apply (or applies less) because you're a script writing genius and you can nail both screenwriting forms. But I think new screenwriters should focus on one script writing form or the other. They should work hard to develop their craft over years, then attack the motion picture business with their honed talent.
Overall I think REACHER is reasonable watching, though today’s (07/02/22) IMDb rating of 8.4 surprises me a little. Reacher is fairly run-of-the-mill. But it binds the watcher to the characters and makes you care about them. And we secretly look forward to seeing Reacher meting out his brand of justice - and dog rescuing good-guy morality: Blake Snyder’s influence has spread far and wide among screenwriters and film makers generally. It’s cut and paste audience empathy-buying, and the makers of REACHER made no attempts to hide the off-plot empathy-buying when Reacher rescues a dog (any quadruped will do) and punches the dog’s current ‘carer’ in the face for being negligent. Obviously.
Cliché abounds. Politics are observed, but not obstrusively so, as they are are in so many filmed productions these days. REACHER'S plot is simple but hard to enough to fathom that it engages the audience, who must work to work things out like Reacher and his new comrades must.
Characters are thinly and by-the-book sketched. Reacher himself is a remarkably one-dimensional character (he’s a mass murderer, too, but so are most cinematic heroes). The flashbacks to his childhood with his brother Joe Reacher didn't, for me, make me care for Reacher more, or serve to enrich the story with backstory: they just fragmented the narrative in the principal timeline. Something better is needed to give Jack Reacher's character more depth and interest - much needed because he is emotionally robotic and cold. Cold, murderous heroes need redeeming, subtle, and interesting characteristics.
Reacher’s size is referred to far too much, too. I know this is part of the books’ selling point: Reacher is a big guy and he like to fuck other guys up. We get it. He’s big and old school. But enough's enough.
Overall this is watchable stuff if you don’t ask too much of your Fire Stick. More innovative direction, art direction, and subtler editing would help to make this shine. I think the standout is Alan Ritchson’s performance. He’s a charismatic and compelling presence. He’s perfect to play Jack Reacher, too. Someone to watch, no doubt. Willa Fitzgerald, too, is excellent. Good casting all round I think.
I give REACHER 6.5/10. And I’ll probably be tuning in again later.
STOP PRESS: Amazon Studios has already commissioned season two. Hats off to everyone.