Firm, The (United States, 1993)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Mitchell Y. McDeere (Tom Cruise) has just graduated in the top five of his class from Harvard Law School. With a record like his, there are understandably a lot of people interested in employing him. Offers abound from the large, the prestigious, and the desirable, but eventually it's a small firm from Memphis that snares Mitch's services. Bendini, Lambert, and Locke make the terms of his joining so enticing that the deal is impossible to turn down -- a starting salary near $100,000, a low-interest mortgage so he can buy a house, free use of a Mercedes, and repayment of his college loans. At first, Mitch and his wife Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorne) eagerly celebrate their new life and home, but it doesn't take long for the euphoria to wear thin. Two members of the Firm die under suspicious circumstances, and soon Mitch begins to wonder what secrets lie behind the locked doors of Bendini, Lambert, and Locke.

John Grisham's novel The Firm is a furious page-turner, the kind of book that you don't want to put down once you've started reading it. The main characters are developed in such a way that the reader cares about their fate. The setup (roughly the first 100 pages) is perhaps the novel's greatest strength and, even though the eventual resolution lacks punch, few would deny that The Firm is an entertaining read.

Sydney Pollack's film The Firm is the kind of movie that almost anyone could walk out on without feeling that they've missed much, regardless of whether they've read the book or not. Very little of what made the written version so enjoyable has been successfully translated to the screen, and what we're left with instead is an overly-long (two hours and thirty-four minutes, to be exact), pedantic thriller.

The plot is a good place to start the discussion. This is the book's weakest element and, if anything, it's worse in the movie. While the final "twist" in the script (which in no way resembles what happens in the novel) is clever, it is also difficult to accept. Let's not forget the forces that Mitch is up against. Is it reasonable to believe everything that happens in the pivotal climactic scenes?

An unfortunate tone is set during the first hour. The film spends quite a bit of time using short, often-disjointed scenes in an attempt to recapture the near-perfect mood of Grisham's setup. This would have worked nicely if those various snippets had successfully conveyed the allure of the Firm to Mitch and Abby, but things rush by too quickly and everything is out-of-sync.

On the surface, Tom Cruise and Jeanne Tripplehorne might seem to be acceptable choices for Mitch and Abby McDeere. That is, until the cameras started to roll. Cruise has at times been good in front of the camera (in pictures such as Born on the Fourth of July), while in other instances he has done little more than show off his good looks (Days of Thunder). For The Firm, the star's performance falls solidly in the latter category. Not until the concluding scenes does he do anything resembling real acting, and his lack of range effectively sabotages his character. Unfortunately, Jeanne Tripplehorne is even worse, playing Abby without enthusiasm or energy.

At least the supporting cast, which includes Ed Harris, Wilford Brimley, and Gene Hackman, is strong. Not surprisingly, Hackman's Avery Tolar is the standout. Softened from his counterpart in the book, this Avery becomes the only completely real character in the film. Hackman's performance is more than half the reason why.

In its planning stages, The Firm had potential, but the production team found numerous ways to mess it up. The film doesn't quite sink to the "unwatchable" level, but I'd think twice before spending time and money in a darkened theater with this telling of Mitch McDeere's struggles. It may take longer to read the book, but the experience will be noticably more satisfying.

Firm, The (United States, 1993)

Run Time: 2:34
U.S. Release Date: 1993-06-30
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Content, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1