Most Excellent Investigators: The Better Casting Decisions

Robert Urich as Spenser for Hire
Spenser and Hawk, just how I always imagined them.
Here on Criminal Element there’s been talk about horrific casting decisions (Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher) and ones that make you go “hmm” (Jason Statham as Richard Stark’s Parker), but there’s also another class of casting decisions that gets less notice, those that just absolutely work. In fact, this post was inspired by one of the commenters on our post about Mark Harmon playing John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport, who said that one of the only good casting choices he’d ever seen was Tom Selleck as Jesse Stone.

That said, Robert B. Parker must have written castable characters, because among the best casting choices we’ve ever seen was Robert Urich as Spenser. This might just have been the age I was when the show was on, but I don’t think so. I think Robert Urich managed to portray all the characteristics Parker wrote into his character. (And Avery Brooks as Hawk only cemented the deal.)

David Suchet as Poirot
David Suchet as Hercule Poirot
And then there is David Suchet, who positively defines the role of Agatha Christie’s Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot. Sure, others have tried the character on for size—even some exceptional actors have worn the mustache—but none fit quite so well as Suchet.

The various villains of Thomas Harris’ books seem particularly effectively cast.  Do you remember the oh-so-creepy Tom Noonan as Francis Dollarhyde in Manhunter?  Either Anthony Hopkins or Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecter?

When we asked this question on Twitter, we got a wide range of answers, leading me to realize there were movies I needed to see.  Here were some that came up:

  • Don Cheadle as Mouse in Devil in a Blue Dress
  • The entire cast of Winter’s Bone
  • Guy Pearce as Edmund Exley in L.A. Confidential (the whole cast for this movie was mentioned)
  • Roy Marsden as Adam Dagliesh
  • Tommy Lee Jones as Dave Robicheaux in The Electric Mist (not a good movie, according to our tweeps, but he was great in it)
  • Sly Stallone as Rambo in First Blood (yes, it was a book first, written by David Morrell)
  • Ben Affleck in The Town, based on Chuck Hogan’s book
  • And from one of our tweeps with early access, Daniel Craig and Noomi Rapace in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

So, readers, do you agree?  And do you have any other suggestions? Who have you seen on film portraying your favorite characters well?


  1. MaryC

    Spenser For Hire was one of my favorite series – I wish they woukd release it on DVD. Enjoyed watching Mark Harmon as Davenport. Tom Cruise is not Reacher – I’ll stick with the books and ignore the movie.

  2. Jordan Foster

    Robson Green as Tony Hill in Val McDermid’s Wire in the Blood series. Also David Morrisey as Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne in Thorne.

  3. Megan Frampton

    @JordanFoster beat me to it, but I’d second the Robson Green/Tony Hill choice. And I loved Spenser For Hire, too, totally saw those two as Spenser and Hawke.

  4. Mary Saputo

    A comment about Mark Harmon playing Lucas Davenport; bad, bad, bad. As much as I like Mark Harmon, I didn’t even make it half way through the movie. Had to turn it off I was so turned off! As cute as I think Mark Harmon is, I don’t see him as a sexy, take charge Lucas. As far as I’m concerned, this was another miscasting. By the way – visited a friend last week and she felt the same and didn’t make it through to the end either.

  5. Stephen Hollinghurst

    As a teen I enjoyed Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes. My other favourites John Connolly and Robert Crais have so far eluded Hollywood.

  6. Lege Artis

    Robson Green as Dr. Tonny Hill in Wire in the Blood based on Val McDermid’s books.

  7. Deborah Lacy

    Spenser and Hawk, yes, yes, yes. I also like Jeremy Brett as Sherlock but would like to add Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman – the new Sherlock and Holmes. They are brilliantly cast, even though this Sherlock is modernized. I just love that show.

  8. Djeban

    Tom Selleck as Jesse Stone – inspired casting, he is exactly what I imagined when I read the book.
    Tom Selleck as Jack Reacher – still rofl. Reacher is 6’5 and with a 50-inch chest, and weighing between 210 and 250 pounds. Can you see Tom Cruise taking on 4 thugs of 6’4 weighing 280 pounds each and winning. That’s just silly!
    Haven’t seen Mark Harmon as Lucas Davenport so can’t comment.

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