The Firm (1993 film)

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The Firm
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySydney Pollack
Screenplay by
Based onThe Firm
by John Grisham
Produced by
Starring
CinematographyJohn Seale
Edited by
Music byDave Grusin
Production
companies
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • June 30, 1993 (1993-06-30)
Running time
154 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$42 million
Box office$270.2 million[1]

The Firm is a 1993 American legal thriller film directed by Sydney Pollack, and starring Tom Cruise, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, Hal Holbrook, David Strathairn and Gary Busey. The film is based on the 1991 novel of the same name by author John Grisham. The Firm was one of two films released in 1993 that were adapted from a Grisham novel, the other being The Pelican Brief.

Released on June 30, 1993, the film was a major commercial success, grossing $270.2 million against a budget of $42 million, making it the highest grossing film adapted from a Grisham novel and the highest-grossing R-rated film of 1993, and received positive reviews for the performances (particularly from Cruise and Hunter), although the screenplay received some criticism. Holly Hunter was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance, while Dave Grusin was nominated for Best Original Score.

Plot[edit]

Mitch McDeere, a top Harvard Law School graduate, accepts a lucrative offer from boutique law firm Bendini, Lambert & Locke in Memphis, Tennessee. After he and wife Abby relocate there, he prepares for the Tennessee bar exam. Senior partner Avery Tolar mentors Mitch on the firm's strict culture of loyalty, confidentiality, and high fees. Although the money and benefits, such as a new house, a Mercedes-Benz, and paid-off student loans have swayed Mitch, Abby resents the firm's meddling in employees' personal lives.

Mitch passes the bar exam and works grueling hours, straining his marriage. Under Avery's guidance, Mitch discovers the firm's primary work involves helping wealthy clients hide money in offshore shell corporations and other questionable tax-avoidance schemes. On a work trip to the Cayman Islands, Mitch overhears a client mentioning how the firm's Chicago associates "break legs”. At the firm's Cayman condominium, he finds documents linked to four deceased associates. Meanwhile, the firm's security chief, Bill DeVasher, sends a prostitute to seduce Mitch and uses photos of the assignation to blackmail him into silence. Mitch hires private investigator Eddie Lomax, a former cell mate of Mitch’s brother Ray, to investigate the associates' deaths, but Lomax is murdered by hitmen, witnessed by his secretary Tammy.

FBI agents reveal to Mitch that BL&L's top client is the Morolto crime family of the Chicago Outfit, and most of the firm's lawyers are involved in a significant tax fraud and money laundering scheme. The deceased associates were killed when they tried to leave the firm. The FBI warns Mitch that his home is bugged and pressures him to provide evidence against the firm and the Moroltos. Mitch agrees to cooperate for $1.5 million and his brother Ray's release from prison. The FBI release Ray and transfer half the money to a Swiss account Mitch has set up. The FBI secretly intend to return Ray to jail after Mitch provides the incriminating files. Mitch confesses his one-night stand in the Caymans to Abby, who plans to leave him.

Mitch finds a possible way to save his career after discovering the firm regularly overbills its clients. He realizes it is mail fraud, exposing them to RICO charges. He and Tammy copy the billing records but need additional files from the firm's Cayman condo. Avery changes his schedule, jeopardizing Mitch's plan, so Abby flies to the Caymans and seduces and drugs Avery to get the files. The firm's phone tap records Abby warning Tammy, leading DeVasher's hitmen to pursue them. After Abby copies the files, Avery tells her the firm set up the prostitute who seduced Mitch on the beach. He warns Abby to leave and is later killed by DeVasher's hitmen, staging his death as a bathtub drowning.

Mitch's plans are compromised when a prison guard on the Moroltos' payroll tips off DeVasher about Ray's transfer to FBI custody, forcing him to flee. He is chased through downtown Memphis by DeVasher and his hitman, until Mitch tricks the former into accidentally shooting the latter, after which he confronts DeVasher and knocks him unconscious. Mitch meets with the Moroltos, presenting himself as a loyal attorney who uncovered the firm's illegal over-billing. He asks for permission to turn over their billing invoices to help the FBI prosecute the firm, but assures them that any information about their legal affairs remains safe under attorney–client privilege, implying everything will remain confidential as long as he is alive. The Moroltos reluctantly agree to guarantee Mitch's safety. Mitch hands over the evidence and is able to continue his legal career. He and Abby reconcile.

Mitch's decision to work with the Moroltos angers the FBI, but he reminds them that the evidence he has provided is enough to make a RICO case and ensure that the firm's senior members go to prison for a long time. The film ends with the McDeeres returning to Boston in their old car. Ray, now with Tammy, enjoys his new life in the Caymans with the money Mitch obtained for him.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Paramount Pictures initially budgeted the film at $15 million with Charlie Sheen or Jason Patric considered for the lead with a scheduled release date of Christmas 1992. However, producers Scott Rudin and John Davis wanted it to be a bigger production and talked to Tom Cruise on the set of A Few Good Men, who indicated that he wanted to star and direct. With the release date at risk, Rudin and Davis were given one week to sign a director and signed John Badham for $3 million. Soon after, John McTiernan expressed an interest in directing with Cruise starring, which the studio was keen on however, McTiernan wanted Rudin removed as producer. Paramount Communications president Stanley Jaffe decided to keep Rudin so McTiernan went off to make Last Action Hero and Jaffe brought in Sydney Pollack.[3]

Principal photography took place from November 9, 1992, to March 20, 1993, and though it was primarily filmed in Memphis, Tennessee, some scenes were filmed in Marion, Arkansas, and the Cayman Islands.

The film's soundtrack is almost exclusively solo piano by Dave Grusin.

Gene Hackman's name did not appear on the film's release poster. Hackman joined the film late, when it was already well into production, because the producers had originally wanted to change the gender of the character and cast Meryl Streep, until author John Grisham objected and Hackman was eventually cast. Tom Cruise's deal with Paramount already stated that only his name could appear above the title. Hackman also wanted his name to appear above the title, but when this was refused he asked for his name to be removed completely from the poster.[4] Hackman's name does appear in the beginning and end credits.

This is also the final film for Steven Hill and John Beal.

Differences from the novel[edit]

The film accords with the book in most respects, but the ending is completely different. In the book, Mitch ends up in the Caribbean, hiding from the mob of which he stole a lot of money; conversely, in the film he comes up with a complicated and risky judicial balancing act, getting neatly out of a very dangerous situation, culminating with him and Abby simply getting into their car and driving back to Boston where he is free to find new employment as a lawyer.

A more fundamental difference from the book is the motives and manner in which Mitch solves his predicament. In the book, Mitch acknowledges to himself that he is breaking the attorney–client privilege by copying information and giving it to the FBI. In most US states this privilege only applies to crimes that have already been committed. The privilege does not apply if a lawyer knows that his client either is committing or will commit a crime. However, it is important to note that the attorney-client privilege is one of an evidentiary nature relating specifically to information sought during pretrial discovery or at trial. This is distinguished from an attorney's duty of confidentiality, which prohibits (with exceptions including, for example, if a client is engaged in conduct that will certainly lead to physical harm against another) disclosure of communications made between the attorney and client. Additionally, Mitch must disclose information about his legitimate clients as well. Accepting that he will likely not be allowed to practice law anywhere again, he swindles $10 million from the firm, along with receiving $1 million of a promised $2 million from the FBI for his cooperation. After an extended manhunt involving the police, the firm's lawyers, and hired thugs from the Morolto family, Mitch escapes with Abby (and his brother Ray) to the Cayman Islands. Before fleeing, he leaves behind detailed records of the firm's illegal activities, as well as a recorded deposition. Mitch's information gives federal prosecutors enough evidence to indict half of the firm's active lawyers right away, as well as several retired partners. The documents also provide the FBI with circumstantial evidence of the firm's involvement in money laundering and tax fraud, and thus probable cause for a search warrant for the firm's building and files. This additional evidence is enough to smash both the firm and the Morolto family with a massive RICO indictment.

In the film, apparently in order to preserve the protagonist's personal integrity, Mitch exposes a systematic overbilling scheme by the firm, thus driving a wedge between the Moroltos (who in essence become complicit with Mitch) and their law firm (in the book, overbilling only received a brief mention). He receives a smaller amount of money from the FBI, which he gives to Ray, allowing him to disappear. Rather than capitalizing on his circumstances by stealing money from the firm, as in the book, the movie's McDeere ends up battered and bruised, but with his integrity and professional ethics intact. Mitch also makes the FBI have to work in order to bring down the firm by having to argue that each instance of excessive billing is a federal offense (by virtue of the excessive bills being sent through the mail). The volume and frequency meet the criteria for RICO, thereby enabling the FBI to effectively put the firm out of business by seizing its property and equipment and freezing its bank accounts. From here the Moroltos would then need to find another law firm willing to take them on as clients, and if they couldn't, charges for non-lodgment of tax returns could be brought. Since Mitch is exposing only the illegal activity of his employer, and not his and his employer's clients, he is able to retain his law license.

Avery Tolar was originally Avery Tolleson; the latest version of the novel uses the film's surname. Tolar is portrayed as a sort of reluctant villain in the film, while in the novel he has no such moral conflicts.

Mitch's confession to Abby about his sexual infidelity was also unique to the film. In the novel, McDeere never tells Abby about his infidelity. In the book, Abby's not knowing about Mitch's infidelity is a major "suspense" piece. Mitch comes home one evening and finds an envelope addressed to Abby, that has "Photos – Do Not Bend" written on it. The photos were surreptitiously given to DeVasher by Art Germain. Mitch thinks it is the pictures he was shown of his infidelity overseas. Abby is in the bedroom when he sees the open package. He enters the bedroom and learns that Abby opened the package, but it was empty. Mitch realizes DeVasher is toying with him, and this incident in the book causes Mitch to cooperate with the FBI. In the film, Mitch's confession prompts Abby to seriously consider leaving him, but she ultimately helps him bring down the firm.

Also, in the book, Eddie's old secretary, Tammy, seduces and drugs Avery. In the movie, however, it is Abby who seduces Avery. This also changes the character development because in the movie Abby is portrayed as risking herself for Mitch. In the book, Abby is simply an accomplice to Tammy.

Release[edit]

The film was released while Grisham was at the height of his popularity. That week, Grisham and Michael Crichton evenly divided the top six paperback spots on The New York Times Best Seller list.[5] It opened on June 30, 1993 in 2,393 theatres, and landed at #1 at the box office, grossing $25.4 million over the 4th of July weekend. It remained in the #1 spot at the box office for 3 weeks. After 12 weeks in theatres, the film was a huge success, making over $158 million domestically and $111 million internationally ($270 million worldwide).[6][7] Additionally, it was the largest grossing R-rated movie of 1993 and of any film based on a Grisham novel.[8]

Awards[edit]

The film earned two Academy Award nominations including Best Supporting Actress for Holly Hunter (losing to Anna Paquin for The Piano, though she did win an Oscar at that year's ceremony for Best Actress in the same film as Paquin) and Best Original Score for Dave Grusin (losing to John Williams for Schindler's List).

Reception[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 76% based on 58 reviews, with an average of 6.20/10. The site's critics consensus states: "The Firm is a big studio thriller that amusingly tears apart the last of 1980s boardroom culture and the false securities it represented."[9] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 58 out of 100, based on 13 critics, indicating "mixed or average" reviews.[10] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[11]

Roger Ebert gave The Firm three stars out of four, remarking: "The movie is virtually an anthology of good small character performances. [...] The large gallery of characters makes The Firm into a convincing canvas [... but] with a screenplay that developed the story more clearly, this might have been a superior movie, instead of just a good one with some fine performances."[12]

The film earned some negative reviews as well, notably from James Berardinelli, who said that "[v]ery little of what made the written version so enjoyable has been successfully translated to the screen, and what we're left with instead is an overly-long [and] pedantic thriller."[13] Grisham enjoyed the film, remarking: "I thought [Tom Cruise] did a good job. He played the innocent young associate very well."[14]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on VHS in December 1993, with the cassettes specially made of blue plastic. It was released on LaserDisc in the United States on December 16, 1993 in both widescreen and pan and scan formats.[15] The DVD was released on May 23, 2000. The special features include only the teaser and theatrical trailers. A Blu-ray edition was released on September 11, 2012. A 4K UHD version is released on June 20, 2023.

In other media[edit]

TV sequel[edit]

In April 2011 Entertainment One announced that a sequel to The Firm was being produced with Sony Pictures Television and Paramount Pictures. The series picked up the story of Mitch and his family ten years after the events of the novel and film. The first season was 22 episodes long and began production in Canada in July 2011. In May 2011, NBC confirmed that they had acquired the U.S. broadcast rights to the show and that they planned to début it in January 2012.[16] The show was cancelled after its first season.

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Firm at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ "Paul Calderon". TVGuide.com.
  3. ^ Brown, Corie (November 1992). "Who Needs This?". Premiere. p. 22.
  4. ^ Galbraith, Jane (27 June 1993). "A look at Hollywood and the movies : 'Firm' Billing : Trust Us – Gene Hackman's in It". Archived from the original on 2016-05-31. Retrieved 2016-04-28 – via LA Times.
  5. ^ Brown, Joe (1993-07-02). "'The Firm' (R)". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2014-10-24. Retrieved 2012-01-08.
  6. ^ Fox, David J. (July 6, 1993). "Movies: 'The Firm,' with $31.5 million for the weekend, leads the way. Total movie receipts for the four-day holiday are an estimated $120 million". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2012-07-15. Retrieved 2010-10-26.
  7. ^ Fox, David J. (July 20, 1993). "Weekend Box Office : So Far, This Is Summer to Beat". The Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2012-07-15. Retrieved 2011-01-10.
  8. ^ "The Firm". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 2012-01-02.
  9. ^ "The Firm". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on 2010-11-10. Retrieved 2022-06-09.
  10. ^ "The Firm". Metacritic. Fandom, Inc. Retrieved June 15, 2022.
  11. ^ "CinemaScore". Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
  12. ^ https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-firm-1993 The Firm review] by Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, June 30, 1993 Archived October 1, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Berardinelli, James (1993). "The Firm' review". ReelViews.net. Archived from the original on 2021-05-17.
  14. ^ Jordan, Tina (February 13, 2004). "Grisham v. Grisham: John Grisham issues judgment on ALL his novels". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on 2009-06-26.
  15. ^ McGowan, Chris (November 6, 1993). "Letterbox Format's Popularity Widens" (PDF). Billboard. p. 73. Retrieved February 4, 2024.
  16. ^ "NBC Unveils Fall Primetime Schedule for 2011–12 Season". TheFutonCritic. May 15, 2011. Archived from the original on 2012-09-13.

External links[edit]