The Firm

1993, R, 154 min. Directed by Sydney Pollack. Starring Tom Cruise, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, Hal Holbrook, David Strathairn, Wilford Brimley, Gary Busey.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 2, 1993

With The Firm, Tom Cruise has descended from A Few Good Men to A Few Bad Men. Though he's still working his way through the lawyer genre here, this time he's the one in the life-or-death situation, not his client. Based on John Grisham's 1991 page-turner, this movie adaptation clocks in at over two-and-a-half hours running time. That length is the largest contributor to The Firm's problems as you begin to feel more exhausted than engrossed. By the film's climax, following the plot movements has become merely complex rather than suspenseful. The movie probably functions better as a modern morality tale than as a thriller. Three screenwriting pros -- David Rabe, Robert Towne and David Rayfiel -- are credited with the fashioning of this screenplay and it's hard to know if the narrative problems are due to the “too many cooks” syndrome or not enough. The movie diverges significantly from some of the novel's plot details but the changes have their own undeniable sense and integrity (though, arguably, the whole subplot of Mitch's jailbird brother could be excised from the movie with no apparent narrative loss other than the disappearance of Strathairn's wonderful acting turn). More successful than the suspense elements (which, ultimately, may just be the victims of poor pacing) are the story's moral resonances. It's a story for our times about a kid with no money who graduates near the top of his class from Harvard Law School and is then seduced by the wealth, perks and camaraderie offered by a conservative Memphis law firm. By the time he realizes that the nature of the firm's business requires either his criminal participation or his premature death, he's left to his own devices to sort out the mess, since he neither trusts the government nor its FBI intermediaries to protect his survival. Still, the portrayals of the law partners make them seem more like some satanic cabal than a group of unethical collaborators. Throughout, there are some marvelous performances and casting delights. Notably, these include Hunter as a surprising heroine, Harris as an odd G-man, Busey as a briefly seen but enthusiastically played gumshoe, Brimley as a villain so rotten that you can almost picture the character shooting holes through Quaker Oats, and, of course, the aforementioned Strathairn. Both Cruise and Tripplehorn are solid, though uninspired, as the young couple at the center of this maelstrom. Pollack's direction keeps activities in constant motion as he constantly moves back and forth between all the various players in Boston, Memphis and the Caribbean, yet, curiously, despite all this convergent editing, The Firm creeps along at a chafingly slow pace. Two-and-a-half hour movies -- jeez, there ought to be a law.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Sydney Pollack Films
Amazing Grace
The lost concert movie of the nights that Aretha Franklin recorded her iconic album

Michael King, April 12, 2019

The Interpreter
Although The Interpreter is intelligent, intriguing, and topical, it's hampered by its own good intentions, too many plot convolutions, and character ambiguities that try to pass for suspense.

Marjorie Baumgarten, April 22, 2005

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
Pokémon Detective Pikachu
Pika pika pika? Pika pika pika pika pika pika pika.

May 10, 2019

Sunset
Period drama keeps the techniques of Oscar winner Son of Saul but loses the emotional weight

April 26, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

The Firm, Sydney Pollack, Tom Cruise, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, Hal Holbrook, David Strathairn, Wilford Brimley, Gary Busey

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle