The Firm

Originally appeared in The Bradenton Herald, Summer 1993

It seems Hollywood worked overtime to bring us big-screen flicks based on best-selling books this summer. Along with two films based on Michael Crichton novels, we also get The Firm, based on the book by John Grisham.

Mitchell McDeere (Tom Cruise) is a fresh graduate of law school, looking to join up with a good firm. One of these - referred to as just "The Firm" - is particularly interested in Mitchell. He and his wife (Jeanne Tripplehorn) accept The Firm's offer, which includes lavish loans for a new home and car. Soon after Mitchell joins, however, he becomes suspicious about the deaths of two of The Firm's lawyers.

On a business trip with his assigned "mentor" (Gene Hackman), Mitchell discovers a large stash of files pertaining to his firm's mysterious Chicago connections. Before Mitchell has a chance to learn anything more, he is approached by the FBI, who link the mysterious deaths of lawyers with the Mafia. The FBI offers Mitchell a choice: expose his new employers in court or remain on the side of the firm and be indicted. In true Hollywood style, Mitchell finds both options unacceptable, so he decides to take matters into his own hands.

The Firm (the film) opens slowly, but picks up a great deal of momentum, until you ultimately feel like you're in a race to the ending. A lot of time is spent introducing Mitchell to The Firm and letting the audience really understand Mitchell's relationship with his wife. The second half of the movie deals with Mitchell's plans to lawfully expose his firm and keep the FBI at bay. The action and suspense, more evident near the end, are the best parts of the film, even though it begins with elements of a more subdued character drama.

Many small triumphs contribute to the overall success of the film. The technical aspects, like sound and film editing, are top notch. The screenplay seems fresh and realistic, with skillful dramatic twists. Throughout the film, themes of truth and freedom are touched upon. A touch of irony is applied, showing how a man is figuratively imprisoned by the quest for freedom.

Subplots and small characters are given the opportunity to play out - proving that requiring the audience think to keep up with a movie is not a bad thing. If I had to pick on one thing, I'd say the piano-based musical score is sometimes distractingly inappropriate.

Cruise is at the right point in his career for this role - to play more one-note pretty boys could be career suicide. Unfortunately, Mitchell McDeere isn't terribly distinguished from Cruise's last role (in A Few Good Men), but he is likeable nonetheless. Tripplehorn, as Mitchell's wife, and Hackman, as his "mentor," turn in the best performances without overshadowing the film's obvious star. Hal Holbrook and Wilford Brimley, as members of the firm, fare almost as well, seeming at one moment pleasantly familiar and then eerily sinister. The brief character of a private eye (Gary Busey), and the larger role of his secretary (Holly Hunter) border on being too silly, but they work in the overall context of the film.

The Firm succeeds in small ways as a drama as well as a suspense film. While falling a bit short of a crowd-pleasing action film, it delivers quite a bit if you're willing to look. Once you do, you can't help but be entertained by the cleverness of its plot.

- Derek Miner

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