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.