Illegal Eagle

Tom Cruise and Hal Holbrook in The Firm (1993)

"The Firm" is the sort of movie which will annoy some audiences because as an adaptation of John Grisham's novel it's not great. Grisham's novel was exciting, clever and sucked you in that you never wanted to put it down. But that intelligence, that depth of character is lost in adaptation and in place we have a thriller which in fairness is exciting and culminates in a fast paced, dramatic series of twists but it is not Grisham's novel. It is still entertaining especially for those who have not read the novel but it is also derivative with a style similar to other movies, basically a crowd pleaser.

Mitch McDeere (Tom Cruise - A Few Good Men) is a hot shot young law student with companies falling over themselves to have him join them especially one small Memphis law firm who make sure that they make him an offer he can't refuse. Swept off his feet Mitch and his wife Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn - Basic Instinct) head to Memphis to start their new life but soon doubts start to form in their minds especially when Mitch is approached by a couple of FBI men who know a lot about him. It soon becomes apparent that the firm is up to no good and Mitch finds himself in a catch-22 situation; assist the FBI by giving them files and end up loosing his licence by betraying client trust or side with the firm and end up going to jail if the FBI ever manages to build a case. With the added threat of the Mafia and the knowledge that those who betray the firm ending up dead Mitch must try and find a way out and protect those who are close to him.

Gene Hackman as Avery Tolar in The Firm (1993)

So here we have another adaptation of a John Grisham novel which doesn't do the book justice because it fails to capture the intrigue and cleverness of his story. In place we get mystery as we slowly discover what is what and become aware of Mitch's dilemma but then it turns all this intrigue into a fast paced twisting ending as Mitch tries to work a way out for himself. It basically becomes less interested in making the mechanics of Mitch's escape plan work and delivering big drama with some chase scenes. Yes that means it makes "The Firm" a crowd pleaser as after almost 2 hours of well built up drama we get an action ending.

Now on one hand I don't mind this because it does knit things together nicely in the build up and the splash of excitement is a bit of a relief. But on the other it does mean that trying to piece together Mitch's escape plan, such as how he is going to make sure brother Ray is safe becomes too contrived. To enjoy it you have to stop thinking about what is going on and enjoy the bravado be it the ballsy Mitch as he squirms his way out of the mess or the action as he gets chased by killer The Nordic Man, a poor name for a bleach blonde Tobin Bell.

Because of such "The Firm" becomes very much a Tom Cruise movie which trades on his enthusiasm in the early parts, the bravado as he plays both the firm and the FBI and then action hero when we get to the chase. And Cruise delivers a good performance always in control, always delivering a character even if now it feels a bit routine because he has played this sort of character more than once. But Cruise is assisted by a whole cavalcade of good supporting performances from veterans such as Hal Holbrook, Wilford Brimley and Gene Hackman. But of course it is Holly Hunter as Tammy who steals many a scene with a performance which in many ways is better than the movie, although do I wonder how she got nominated for best supporting actress Oscar in a role which in total lasts about 6 minutes.

What this all boils down to is that "The Firm" is an entertaining movie when approached as a Tom Cruise movie, delivering the various aspects which he has come to be known for from action to bravado. But as an adaptation of a John Grisham novel it is not so good and turns a thrilling story into more generic action and excitement.

Tags: John Grisham

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