John Grisham fella, he's a pretty decent writer I hear. A specialist in legal thrillers, Grisham has a long list of bestselling books to his name. Growing up though in the 1990s, I was at that age where neither the books nor the film adaptations really appealed to me. In 1995, 10-year old me wasn't too interested in the world of law. Go figure. The positive? 20-something me has gotten to catch up with both the books and the movies! Today's flick is 1993's The Firm.
Graduating from Harvard Law School, Mitch McDeere (Tom Cruise) has the world at his fingertips. Job offers from countless impressive, prestigious law firms are flowing in, and Mitch is able to make the decision on his own. He accepts an offer from Bendini, Lambert & Locke, a small, tax/accounting firm in Memphis. Their offer blows the others out of the water, and everything about the firm seems too good to be true. The family-like atmosphere appeals to Mitch so with his wife, Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn), he moves to Memphis with his new house, new Mercedes and new job. He fully commits himself, a talented lawyer pushing himself to his absolute limit and testing his marriage with Abby because he's so committed to making this job work. His goals are pure, but maybe the job isn't? Mitch begins to suspect there's far more going on behind closed doors than he's being told. What secrets is the firm holding?
I'm a book nerd too on top of my movie nerdiness. If there's a book available of a forthcoming flick, I'll typically try and read the book first, and this Grisham novel/adaptation combo was no different. One of the author's most famous books, The Firm was an excellent read. Well-written, good story, cool/interesting characters. The film adaptation from director Sydney Pollack has all those ingredients and for the most part, works pretty well. It was filmed on-location in Memphis with the city serving an excellent backdrop to the story. The characters are fascinating, and the cast is impressive in its depth and talent. I don't usually criticize soundtracks, but I thought this Memphis blues (with a lot of piano) infused score was a big flop overall as well, to the point the score becomes a distraction because it didn't fit with the tone and rhythm.
Now onto one of my movie theories. Ah, screw it, theories in general! I call it the Christmas Eve theory. Do you want to know what your presents are or is the mystery and the build-up and the anticipation the best part? The mystery here works in a big way -- we're talking epic SENSE OF DOOM -- and the payoff does too. No Spoilers here though, sorry. It's the execution after the reveal that didn't work as well for me. The screenplay takes some giant liberties with Grisham's novel, making changes that severely alter characters, the entire story, the motivations and the payoff in the end. It's a long movie to begin with at 154 minutes, but I found myself drifting in the second half. There's some really intense, life and death chase scenes that are exhilarating to watch but things get disjointed in a big way. The ensemble gets lost in the shuffle, and the scene with the payoff feels almost laughable. Talk about a disappointment in the finale.
With all that said, the movie is still worth watching. Starting with Cruise, the cast is pretty impeccable. In quite a string of successful movies, Cruise is an excellent lead. Reading the book, he wasn't what I thought Mitch would look like, but the casting works. Cruise brings the right amount of confidence and smarts and then intense terror to the character. This isn't a flawless character -- thankfully -- but an interesting one. Of the supporting performances, I thought Gene Hackman was the best. Go figure, Gene Hackman being good at acting! He plays Avery Tolar, a partner at Bendini and Mitch's mentor who's supposed to take the young lawyer under his wing as he preps for the BAR exam. Their scenes as they meet and get to know each other feature some of the movie's strongest scenes. It's two actors going toe to toe, one holding the firm's secret, one trying to carve a niche out for himself.
Who else to look out for? LOTS of folks. Start with Hal Holbrook and Jerry Hardin as two heads of the firm who recruit Mitch to join Bendini. Wilford Brimley and his impressive mustache are quite imposing (and unintentionally funny at one line) as DeVasher, the firm's head of security. Helping Mitch figure out exactly what's going on are Gary Busey as a private detective and Holly Hunter as his sexy Southern secretary. Pushing Mitch to make a life-altering decision are some government officials -- cough FBI cough -- in the form of Ed Harris (with a shaved head and angry demeanor) and Steven Hill (taking a break from Law and Order). And also, look for David Straithairn as Mitch's brother, Ray, who has a secret that could cripple them all. Last but not least, also look for Paul Sorvino, Tobin Bell, Dean Norris, Margo Martindale, and Joe Viterelli in some other key supporting parts I don't want to give too much away about.
I wanted to like this movie more than I did. All the potential is certainly there from the cast to the novel to the directing (Pollack is a favorite of mine). It just never quite lives up to that potential. The first half is better than the second half, but the ending disappoints, limping to the finish. I sound like that guy, but the book is better than the movie. Oh, and Tom Cruise runs for his life around Memphis a lot so there's that.
The Firm (1993): ** 1/2 /****