The Firm (1993 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Sydney Pollack|
|Produced by||John Davis|
|Screenplay by||David Rabe|
|Based on||The Firm|
by John Grisham
|Music by||Dave Grusin|
|Edited by||William Steinkamp|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$270.2 million|
Mitch McDeere (Tom Cruise) is a young man from an impoverished background, but with a promising future as a lawyer. About to graduate from Harvard Law School near the top of his class, he receives a generous job offer from Bendini, Lambert & Locke, a small boutique firm in Memphis specializing in accounting and tax law. He and his wife, Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn), move to Memphis and Mitch sets to work studying to pass the Tennessee bar exam. Avery Tolar (Gene Hackman), one of the firm's senior partners, becomes his mentor and begins introducing Mitch to BL&L's professional culture, which demands complete loyalty, strict confidentiality, and a willingness to charge exceptional fees for their services. Seduced by the money and perks showered on him (including a house, car, and his student loans paid off), he is at first totally oblivious to the more sinister side of his new employer, although Abby has her suspicions due to the Firm's desire for stability in the family.
Mitch passes the bar exam and begins working long hours that put a strain on his marriage. Working closely with Tolar, Mitch learns that most of the firm's work involves helping wealthy clients hide large amounts of money in off-shore shell corporations and other dubious tax-avoidance schemes. While on a trip to the Cayman Islands Mitch listens to Tolar talk to client Sonny Capps about taxes and hears Capps state how the firm's clients in Chicago break people's legs. Later on, Mitch is seduced by a local woman and cheats on Abby. Unbeknownst to Mitch, this encounter has been arranged by the firm's sinister security chief, Bill DeVasher (Wilford Brimley), who later uses photos of Mitch's beach tryst with the woman as blackmail to keep him quiet about the firm's questionable, even illegal, activities.
Mitch realizes he is now trapped, but after he learns two associates of the firm died under mysterious circumstances, he hires private investigator Eddie Lomax to learn the truth. Lomax is shot in his office, which his secretary Tammy witnesses. Mitch is then approached by FBI agents who inform him that, while some of BL&L's business is legitimate, their biggest client is the Morolto Mafia family from Chicago. The firm's partners, as well as most of the associates, are all complicit in a massive tax fraud and money-laundering scheme. The two associates who died had learned about the firm's dark side and were killed to keep them from talking, while Lomax was killed for asking questions. The FBI agents warn Mitch that his house, car, and office have probably all been bugged. The FBI pressures Mitch to provide the Bureau with evidence they can use to go after the Moroltos and bring down BL&L.
Mitch knows he faces a stark choice. If he works with the FBI, he believes that even if he stays alive, he will have to disclose information about the firm's legitimate clients—thus breaking the attorney–client privilege and risking disbarment. However, the FBI warns him that if he stays with the firm, he will almost certainly go to jail when the FBI takes down both the firm and the Moroltos. Either way, his life as he knows it is over, and he agrees to cooperate with the FBI in return for $1.5 million and the release of his imprisoned brother Ray in Arkansas. The FBI release Ray but plan to return him to the slammer once Mitch hands the Feds the files. They also give him half the money before they receive the files. Meanwhile, Mitch confesses to Abby about his one-night stand in the Caymans and she separates herself from him, eventually deciding to leave Memphis.
Desperate to find a way out of his predicament, Mitch inadvertently stumbles on a solution when one of his clients complains that he was billed for extra several hours of fees, as part of the firm's money-laundering services for the Moroltos. Mailing these padded bills to the firm's clients is considered to be mail fraud, which would expose the firm to RICO charges. Mitch begins secretly copying the firm's billing records with help from Lomax's secretary Tammy, but they need files in Tolar's Cayman house. Meanwhile, Tolar visits Abby at her job to say goodbye, and invites her to come with him to the Caymans. Abby declines, but Tolar reveals his work schedule has changed, thus threatening Mitch's plans. After telling Tammy not to inform Mitch, Abby flies to the Caymans to seduce and drug Tolar. The firm's phone tap picks up Abby's warning to Tammy, and DeVasher sends his hitmen to the Caymans. After Abby and Tammy steal client files from Tolar's house, a drowsy Tolar warns Abby to leave immediately. Tolar is killed by the hitmen.
Mitch's plans are jeopardized when a prison guard on the Moroltos' payroll alerts DeVasher after Mitch's brother Ray is transferred to FBI custody without the usual formalities being followed. Evading DeVasher and his thugs, Mitch meets with the Morolto brothers and, presenting himself as a loyal attorney looking out for his clients' best interests, tells them that his contact with the FBI and his copying of the firm's files were merely an attempt to expose the firm's illegal overbilling. Mitch asks the Moroltos for permission to turn over their billing invoices in order to help the FBI make their case against the firm. He reveals that he has made his own copies of the files, but assures them that as long as he is alive, any other information he knows about their legal affairs is covered under attorney-client privilege and will never be revealed. Convinced thus, the Moroltos agree to guarantee Mitch's safety and let him give the FBI all the evidence it needs to prosecute the firm. Since the attorney-client privilege doesn't apply when a lawyer knows about ongoing criminal activity, Mitch is able to keep his status as a lawyer.
- Tom Cruise as Mitch McDeere, a promising recent Harvard Law graduate.
- Jeanne Tripplehorn as Abigail "Abby" McDeere, Mitch's wife.
- Gene Hackman as Avery Tolar, Mitch's mentor at the Firm.
- Holly Hunter as Tamara "Tammy" Hemphill, Eddie's chain-smoking secretary and lover who aids Mitch in copying and stealing the files in Memphis and the Cayman Islands.
- Ed Harris as Agent Wayne Tarrance, the agent in charge of the investigation into the Firm; Mitch's primary contact with the FBI.
- Hal Holbrook as Oliver Lambert, senior partner at the Firm.
- Jerry Hardin as Royce McKnight, managing partner at the Firm.
- David Strathairn as Ray McDeere, Mitch's brother who was in jail for a manslaughter conviction
- Terry Kinney as Lamar Quinn, Mitch's friend who works at the Firm.
- Wilford Brimley as Bill DeVasher, officially the head of security at the Firm—unofficially the Firm's main hitman.
- Sullivan Walker as Thomas Abanks, the owner of a scuba diving business.
- Gary Busey as Eddie Lomax, a private investigator and former cell-mate of Ray McDeere.
- Steven Hill as F. Denton Voyles, FBI director
- Margo Martindale as Nina Huff, Mitch's secretary
- Paul Sorvino as mob boss Tommy Morolto
- Joe Viterelli as mob boss Joey Morolto
- Jerry Weintraub as businessman Sonny Capps
- Tobin Bell as the Nordic Man, Morolto hitman
- Dean Norris as the Squat Man, Morolto hitman
- Karina Lombard as a girl who seduces McDeere
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 credits, but when this was refused he asked for his name to be removed completely from the poster. Hackman's name does appear in the end credits.
Differences from the novel
The film accords with the book in most respects, but the ending is significantly different. Mitch does not end up in the Caribbean, as in the book; he and Abby simply get into their car and drive back to Boston, as the ending narration, "Do you think [the car] will make it?...to Boston?..."
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, 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 Caymans. 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 meets 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 illegal activity, 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.
The surname of the second man killed on Grand Cayman is Joe Hodges, instead of Hodge as in the novel.
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.
Critical reaction to The Firm has been mostly positive, with the film earning a 75% rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on 55 reviews. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
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."
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." Grisham enjoyed the film, remarking: "I thought [Tom Cruise] did a good job. He played the innocent young associate very well."
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. 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). Additionally, it was the largest grossing R-rated movie of 1993 and of any film based on a Grisham novel.
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).
The film was released on VHS in December 1993, the cassettes were specially made of blue plastic. The DVD was released on May 23, 2000. The special features include only the teaser and theatrical trailers. The Blu-ray was released on September 11, 2012.
In other media
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. The show was cancelled after its first season.
- The Firm at Box Office Mojo
- GALBRAITH, JANE (27 June 1993). "A look at Hollywood and the movies : 'FIRM' BILLING : Trust Us--Gene Hackman's in It" – via LA Times.
- "The Firm". Rotten Tomatoes.
- "CinemaScore". cinemascore.com.
- The Firm review by Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, June 30, 1993
- The Firm review by James Berardinelli, ReelViews.net, 1993
- "Grisham v. Grisham: John Grisham issues judgment on ALL his novels" Tina Jordan, Entertainment Weekly, February 13, 2004
- Brown, Joe (1993-07-02). "'The Firm' (R)". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-01-08.
- 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". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-26.
- Fox, David J. (July 20, 1993). "Weekend Box Office : So Far, This Is Summer to Beat". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-01-10.
- The Firm at Box Office Mojo
- NBC Unveils Fall Primetime Schedule for 2011–12 Season NBC press release at TheFutonCritic, May 15, 2011
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