Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Movie Review: The Firm (1993)


A sprawling legal epic, The Firm is a smart thriller that veers away from the excesses of the genre in favour of emphasizing the human drama. An extraordinarily deep cast succeeds in maintaining interest over the 150 minutes of running length.

The Firm has a simple premise with complex details. Young Harvard law school graduate Mitch McDeere (Tom Cruise) has his pick of job offers from all the top law firms, but the boutique Memphis firm of Bendini, Lambert and Locke make him an offer he can't refuse. Lured by a high salary, a large house and a luxury car, Mitch moves to Memphis with his wife Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn). The firm assigns senior lawyer Avery Tolar (Gene Hackman) to mentor Mitch, and soon they are jetting off to the Cayman Islands to provide tax advice to shady characters. Mitch is seduced at the beach by a local beauty, an encounter that yields conveniently compromising photos that the firm can use against him as needed.

Mitch soon learns the firm mostly provides money laundering services to the mob. When two lawyers are blown up for planning to quit, FBI agent Wayne Terrance (Ed Harris) starts sniffing around, and Mitch is fingered as a potential inside man who can collect the evidence to bring the corrupt lawyers down. With head of security (Wilford Brimley) and his henchmen on his tail, Mitch has to plan the destruction of his employer while saving his career.

The Firm's drama centres around the conflict between three characters, brought to life by Cruise, Tripplehorn and Hackman. The relationship between Mitch and Abby McDeere is the first casualty of the firm's dominance, Mitch's long hours proving to be the lesser evil as the true nature of the client list is revealed and Mitch falls for the oldest trick in the book on the sandy beaches of the Cayman Islands. While Cruise and Tripplehorn make for a believable young couple, with Cruise's intense eyes working in his favour as the driven idealistic lawyer, Tripplehorn is slightly less convincing as Abby, both the role and the movie slightly exceeding her range.

As the McDeere marriage buckles, Avery is nurturing his relationship with Mitch, mentoring him in the fine art of tax evasion and smoothly sliding him into the role of the mob's lawyer. Hackman was born to play roles like Avery Tolar, the manipulative maverick who applies his own rules and plays both sides against the middle. The Firm makes its way to an interesting crossroads by ultimately matching Abby with Avery in a dangerous encounter pivotal to Mitch's survival, with both Abby and Avery risking everything, albeit in different ways, for the sake of Mitch's career.

Director Sydney Pollack surrounds Cruise, Tripplehorn, and Hackman with a stellar cast of stalwarts. Hal Holbrook, Wilford Brimley, Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, David Strathairn and Gary Busey flesh out every secondary character and help carry the load of a convoluted but sturdy story.

Too often, movie adaptations of legal thrillers degenerate into a rapidly mounting body count and stock chase scenes, chucking all reality to one side. While The Firm does not avoid all the pitfalls, it sidesteps most of them. The screenplay team of David Rabe, Robert Towne and David Rafiel deserve credit for adapting John Grisham's novel into a coherent movie that places characters ahead of stunts. The Firm keeps Mitch, Abby and Avery at centre stage, insecurities as prominent as abilities, and none of them suddenly develop the powers of secret agents.

At the core of The Firm is a young lawyer using his legal skills and intellect to find a way out the mess that he finds himself in, a welcome celebration of brains over brawn.






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