MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Thriller/ Stars: Tom Cruise, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Gene Hackman, Holly Hunter, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, Jerry Hardin, David Strathairn, Terry Kinney, Wilford Brimley, Sullivan Walker, Gary Busey, Steven Hill, Margo Martindale, Paul Sorvino, Jerry Weintraub, Tobin Bell, Dean Norris/ Runtime: 154 minutes
I feel it must be said that John Grisham is one of those iconic authors who has been blessed with a truly special gift. Indeed this is a man who, much like James Patterson and Stephen King is one of those rare writers whose work manages to go beyond the world of writing and managed to bring in significant amounts of people who, under other circumstances, would not normally consider picking up a book while at the same time also made regular readers looking for something unique, brilliant, and also quite attractive on a broad spectrum quite happy. Indeed as far as this critic is concerned, John Grisham is most certainly part of a legion of authors who have all managed to really be the embodiment of the present day age of literature. Suffice it to say that in the 1990’s, Grisham wrote a quartet of novels that were quite popular. They are known as A Time to Kill, The Pelican Brief, The Client, and The Firm and they are usually considered amongst Patterson’s finest work. With that level of success, it is safe to say that it didn’t take too much time for the world of movie magic to come around looking to scoop up the film rights and, with their adaptation of The Firm, it is safe to say Hollywood actually managed to get an adaptation right for once. I say this because celebrated director Sydney Pollack’s film adaptation of The Firm is honestly just as arresting, thrilling, and brilliantly constructed as the original novel. Not only that, but by possessing a terrific cast, being masterfully paced, well-designed, and feeling like a genuine old school thriller that manages to stay true to what makes this genre so distinct whilst also checking every box with a wonderful sense of confidence, The Firm is a phenomenal film that might just be one of the better put-together films of the past 30 years.
The plot is as follows: The Firm tells the story of a young man by the name of Mitch McDeere. Mitch is one of the top five of his class at the university of Harvard Law, married to a lovely schoolteacher by the name of Abby, and when the film opens, finds himself being scouted by some of this nation’s top law firms due to his clear level of talent and skill. Indeed if there is one thing that could be said for our young yet ambitious hero, it’s that he is clearly destined for big things. However, whilst considering his offers, he finally gets one that is just too good to be true in the form of his previous best and then increased by 20% along with quite a few other delightful perks courtesy of an esteemed yet smaller law firm located in Memphis known as Bendini, Lambert & Locke. His curiosity piqued, Mitch decides to accept their highly generous offer, and soon he and his wife have packed a U-Haul and are headed for an already paid for home courtesy of the firm. Yet it isn’t long before Abby starts feeling overwhelmed and as if she’s losing Mitch to it all. The fact that he quickly becomes absorbed in work and going on business trips to the Caymans with his firm-appointed mentor Avery Tolar in order to prove he’s got what it takes most likely isn’t helping matters. That minor stumbling block aside however, it finally looks like Mitch is about to take off and the road to easy street has never seemed so clearer. Tragically however, things are about to take a turn for the worst courtesy of a fed by the name of Wayne Tarrance. A fed who decides to clue Mitch in to the fact that there seem to be some shady things afoot at the firm. Why is he letting him in on this? Because the fed thinks Mitch is in a spot-on position to expose the firm and whatever they are up to. Yet even though he is very reluctant to aid what he thinks is a crackpot story, Mitch decides to dig a little deeper just to be safe, and upon discovering that there might be something to what the FBI is telling him after all, agrees to reluctantly play along and help out even though doing so will almost assuredly mean the end of his job and maybe, just maybe, his life as well…..
Now narrative, craft, and performances. These may seem simplistic in this day and age of mass marketing campaigns, extraordinary special effects, and editing faster than the Road Runner out of Looney Tunes, but it really should be noted just how wonderful it is that a film exists which manages to be wonderful by operating more on untapped smarts, laser-sharp concentration, and intelligence more than anything else. Indeed The Firm truly is an old-school, narrative-driven film that chooses to patiently put the pieces together and play out as it does with the 2 and a half hour runtime proving to be invaluable in that regard. Yet even with that runtime, the film still goes by with remarkable speed and that is a true ode to the trio of factors already mentioned being able to work and fire on all cylinders as they have been able to. Indeed this movie truly is both brilliant and quite anxiety-inducing thrill ride made in the vein of the classics, but it also manages to insert its strengths in just the right spot, and constructs a movie that is from both a conceptual and pathos perspective, quite riveting as well as one that wisely puts a spotlight on both character and narrative and blends the duo together remarkably well. Thus when it is done doing so, you are given a film that is both brilliant and engaging in equal measure. Not only that, but in this film the majority of the action beats are an organic result of both the thrills and the machinations between the various characters. As for pure action beats, these are minimal since the film instead chooses to acquire its anticipation from the evolution and growth of its characters, the acquiring of crucial intel, and a chase of a figurative rather than literal nature to both obtain it and get it to the right people. Therefore, it is to the immense credit of this film’s iconic and immensely talented director that this movie is so intriguing and thrilling in an unnerving, riveted to the edge of your seat manner that is rooted almost exclusively in both dialogue and the integrity of the film’s performances. Indeed if that is not what a thriller is supposed to be then I honestly don’t know what is…
Now Grisham’s novel as well as Pollack’s immense skill in adapting this source material into a smooth, concentrated, and incredibly potent thrill ride may not be fully enough to take The Firm to the level that it currently resides at. For that to happen, the film thankfully turns things over to a truly remarkable cast that every single person in manages to contribute a truly flawless and seemingly natural performance in that not only hooks the audience into the overall narrative as well as the tinier and more personable ingredients in equal measure that combined manage to contribute the wonderful sense of realism that encompasses this film. Indeed in the lead role of Mitch, Tom Cruise manages to give another terrific performance as he manages to bring to life the young cocky lawyer whose maturity is paired up brilliantly with a phenomenal intellect and seemingly natural gifts of insight. Indeed he may permit, at least at first, the style and enticements that the firm offers to fog up his judgment, but to be fair he is being played by a group of expert manipulators who even someone as intelligent as McDeere might not be able to sniff out. Indeed the firm is made up of acting titans such as Hackman and Holbrook and they are phenomenally convincing in their ability to play parts that require them to be just the right degree of both cordial and friendly so as to sucker McDeere in yet also manage to convey just the right degree of intrigue and unease so as to hint to the audience that all might not be on the up and up as it appears to be. Indeed there just seems to always be something off about their interactions with both Mitch and Abby that throughout the film just continues to build and build. Not only that, but even when everything seems to be okie dokie Dr. Jonesy at the beginning and grim and depressing at the end, the film still is able to persuade you that this is a narrative which could turn out either way thus raising the stakes significantly. However even when you get past these heavyweights of the film industry, there is no denying that when your film’s list of supporting cast members include the likes of Holly Hunter, Tobin Bell, Ed Harris, David Strathairn, Gary Busey, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Wilford Brimley, Paul Sorvino, and Joe Viterelli amongst others you really have a cast made primarily up of some of the finest actors working in the early 1990s. Suffice it to say then that this is one of the best casts ever assembled for a film like this to the point that every single person is at the top of their game thus ensuring that it is very little surprise that this film is seen as a slice of brilliant and well-constructed movie magic at work.
Now if there was any ingredient that could be classified as remotely questionable, I would have to be said that it would be the method that this narrative comes together at the conclusion of things. Indeed it may be quite anti-climactic in many respects, but if we are being honest, I feel that it is significantly more honest than some contrived and dishonest conclusion that’s purpose is to give the audience an adrenaline boost instead of stick to honesty as well as remain consistent to how such a narrative could realistically play out. Yet I feel this is one of the key reasons why this story works be it as a book or as a movie. That is because in some areas it may be implausible or unlikely, but the vast majority is not exactly impossible. Indeed this is a film which is rooted in a delightful integrity that lifts the narrative as much as the nuts and bolts of the plot itself. Yet ultimately it is the bonds between the characters, the lure of the movie, the puzzles it contains, the intriguing chess match, the take on human pathos and desires and manipulations that are at play throughout which are this film’s strongest assets.
All in all it is safe to say that The Firm is a terrific entry in the thriller genre that manages to stay true to what is loved the most by fans of this genre, and also puts more of an emphasis on the wonderful ingredients known as narrative and character. Indeed this is a film which earns its action moments through pure apprehension and extremely well-written dialogue instead of cheap suspense that would water down rather than aid the internal strength and flair that this movie seems to work wonders with. Indeed it really is safe to say that Sydney Pollack does absolutely everything spot-on while at the helm of this movie. Indeed Pollack not only manages to locate a spot-on tempo that is able to conquer this film’s lengthy runtime, but he is also able to showcase the action and thrills in such a way that it really enables the narrative to dominate the film as it rightfully should. Plus it also doesn’t hurt that the overall film is also backed up by one of the best casts ever brought together for a film and every single actor, no matter how big or small their role may be, all turning pitch perfect work. Indeed this is a rarity in the world of film in that this is one adaptation that is just as great as the source material from which it originated. Indeed The Firm is truly dynamic entertainment of the finest caliber and an engrossing thriller you will want to watch time and time again. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Firm “93” a solid 4 out of 5.