Amazon’s new ‘Reacher’ series has proved an instant hit – debuting on the Prime streaming service on February 4, it currently boasts an 85% critic score and a whopping 94% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Just as with previous adaptations of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher book series, there is plenty for old and new fans to enjoy.
The show’s blend of action, comedy and mystery makes for compelling viewing, featuring our eponymous hero being wrongly arrested for murder in the opening sequence. Once freed, he joins an investigation into a sprawling conspiracy, while the bodies continue to drop.
Both the series and the main character himself are throwbacks to 1980s-style action movies. The final episode even includes a climactic showdown shoot-out in a factory, in what one can only assume is a homage to classics of the genre like ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Robocop.’
Reacher, played by Alan Ritchson, is a US Army veteran and former military police detective, combining a 6’ 5” frame, hulking musculature and first-rate investigative skills. He essentially walks the earth, seeking adventure and righting wrongs, using violence whenever he feels the need. Or, as Willa Fitzgerald’s character puts it, “You basically go where you want and do what you want.”
This vastly powerful, masculine ‘ideal’ is the perfect metaphor for the US government, and for the American military’s self-appointed role as the world’s policeman. While Jack no longer works for the government, he takes on the role of finding out the truth and nailing the bad guys (in some cases literally).
As with other recent leading men of a similar stripe – such as McGarrett in the rebooted ‘Hawaii Five-0’ or Riggs in the rebooted ‘Lethal Weapon’ – it is clearly established that it is Jack’s military background that enables him to be a hero.
One of the reasons why the 80s action genre centered on this character type was encouragement from the White House. Shortly after taking office, Ronald Reagan appointed former Hollywood agent and ad man Joe Holmes, who had worked on Reagan’s campaign, as the White House’s liaison with Hollywood.
A memo written to Reagan from Holmes and distributed among various government agencies including the CIA, outlined the strategy. Holmes wrote, “There are a number of producers who are fed up with the anti-hero material coming out of Hollywood and asked my help in getting cooperation from the administration to do pro-hero movies and TV series. They believe the right kind of material would bring young people to being more patriotic and restore pride in the Armed Forces. The bottom line is a desire to stimulate enlistments in the services.”
A series like ‘Reacher’ can serve the same purpose today, representing America’s violence as charming, even whimsical, all while pushing a “pro-hero” narrative and encouraging people to sign up for a job with the security state.
The underlying conspiracy that is uncovered by Reacher and his small band of cohorts emphasises this. In a podunk town in Georgia, they discover a large-scale counterfeiting operation producing vast quantities of fake hundred dollar bills. The conspirators murder a dozen people, apparently trying to keep their crimes secret.
But halfway through the series the plot spins around, and it is revealed that the locals are mere servants for their overseas paymasters, a criminal gang in Venezuela whose hit-men are slaughtering the town’s residents, police, and even federal government officials. There are also pointed references to the North Korean government producing phoney C-notes as part of their efforts to wage economic warfare against America.
So, a muscle-bound giant who “loves the smell of gasoline” and has a penchant for peach pie and murdering nameless Latin Americans is exactly what the geopolitical spin doctors ordered.
While ‘Reacher’ itself shows no sign of government support, beyond the tax credits for shooting large parts of the series in and around Toronto, that it so closely replicates the tropes and values of state-sponsored productions is far from surprising.
The show’s producing staff is stacked with veterans of government-supported film and TV. When it comes to the heavy-hitting executive producers of ‘Reacher’, their credits go all the way to the top. Paula Wagner produced the CIA-supported ‘Mission: Impossible’ and the Air Force-assisted ‘War of the Worlds’, both starring Tom Cruise.
Other entries in the ‘Mission: Impossible’ franchise – which has enjoyed CIA support on several films, as well as military assistance – litter the CVs of the various ‘Reacher’ producers. This includes Academy Award winner Christopher McQuarrie, who co-wrote the forthcoming ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ sequel, which just like the original has benefited from full-scale military help.
Further ‘Reacher’ producers including Sean Ryerson previously worked on ‘Covert Affairs’ alongside the CIA, as well as on the TV series ‘Condor’ and ‘Treadstone,’ both of which feature the CIA seal and aerial shots of the Langley headquarters – tell-tale signs of Agency assistance.
Curiously, the ‘Reacher’ executive producers are quite a close-knit group, with many overlapping credits. Several of them worked together on ‘World War Z,’ with help from the US National Guard, as well as ‘Baywatch,’ which was supported by the Coast Guard.
Another collaboration was ‘Star Trek Into Darkness,’ where the producers filmed the critical scene between Kirk and Spock in the warp core at the Department of Energy’s National Ignition Facility, at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories.
Departmental documents record how the filming was conducted under maximum security – using codenames, non-disclosure agreements and escorts for all foreign nationals – while the labs’ Operations Manager Bruno Van Wonterghern got to appear in the movie as an extra.
Perhaps the most curious overlap is another Amazon series – ‘Jack Ryan’ – which was written by a former Marine and has been supported by the CIA and the Pentagon. Executive producers Dana Goldberg, Marcy Ross and David Ellison all worked together on ‘Jack Ryan’ before producing ‘Reacher.’
The second season of Amazon’s ‘Jack Ryan’ focuses on CIA efforts to influence an election in Venezuela, to ensure a liberal human-rights activist candidate wins out over an evil dictator.
Meanwhile, Bill Bost graduated from being Ellison’s assistant on ‘World War Z’ and ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ to becoming a full-blown producer on ‘Condor’ and ‘Reacher,’ and is credited on the new season of ‘Jack Ryan,’ out later this year.
While using the same distributor and protagonists with near-identical names might be coincidental, having both Jack Ryan and Jack Reacher working against international conspiracies originating in Venezuela seems like screenwriting carelessness. Or maybe creative stupidity, combined with an overwhelming desire to flatter the US foreign policy establishment’s paranoid fantasies.
Just a suggestion: Ross, Bost, Goldberg, Ellison and the gang might produce more original storylines if they explored a little further down the State Department’s list of designated enemies.
Likewise, Ellison, McQuarrie and another ‘Reacher’ producer, Don Granger, also teamed up to write and produce ‘Top Gun: Maverick,’ likely to be one of the most important films of the summer, and undoubtedly the biggest military recruitment movie of the year. Whether it, too, will contain Venezuelan villains who require summary execution to ensure US primacy is not yet known.
In sum, ‘Reacher’ is a highly watchable piece of television with a disturbing subtext, that appears to be the result of most of its creators having spent their working lives alongside Hollywood liaison officers from the US government. It reeks of people who have spent decades rubbing shoulders with the CIA, military and Homeland Security, and have internalised all the prejudices of those neurotic bureaucracies, before regurgitating them in televisual form for our entertainment.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.