The Firm (1993 film)
|Directed by||Sydney Pollack|
|Screenplay by||David Rabe|
|Based on||The Firm|
by John Grisham
|Produced by||John Davis|
|Edited by||William Steinkamp|
|Music by||Dave Grusin|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$270.2 million|
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 in a critically acclaimed role. The film is based on the 1991 novel The Firm 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.
Mitch McDeere, about to graduate near the top of his class from Harvard Law School, accepts a generous job offer from Bendini, Lambert & Locke, a boutique law firm in Memphis, Tennessee. Mitch and his wife Abby move to Memphis, and he studies to pass the Tennessee bar exam. Senior partner Avery Tolar mentors Mitch and introduces him to the firm's professional culture, which demands strict loyalty, confidentiality, and a willingness to charge exceptional fees. Mitch is seduced by the money and perks – including a house, a brand new Mercedes-Benz, and his student loans paid off – but Abby is suspicious of the firm's interference with employees’ families.
Mitch passes the bar exam and begins working long hours, straining his marriage. Working closely with Avery, Mitch learns that most of the firm's work involves helping wealthy clients hide money in off-shore shell corporations and other dubious tax-avoidance schemes. During a working trip to the Cayman Islands, Mitch hears a client state that the firm's Chicago clients break people's legs, and finds suspicious documents in a locked closet at Avery's vacation house relating to four of the firm's associates who died under suspicious circumstances. Meanwhile, a local prostitute seduces Mitch, as prearranged by the firm's security chief, Bill DeVasher, who then uses photos of the tryst to blackmail Mitch into silence about the firm's activities, threatening to send the photos to Mitch's wife Abby. This prompts Mitch to hire a private investigator, Eddie Lomax, to investigate the associates' mysterious death, but soon after starting to work on the case, Lomax is fatally shot in his office by two hit-men, a murder that his secretary Tammy witnesses while hiding under the desk.
Mitch is approached by FBI agents who reveal that BL&L's biggest client is the Morolto crime family of the Chicago Outfit. Most of the firm is complicit in a massive tax fraud and money laundering scheme. The dead associates had learned the truth and were killed on the firm's orders, as was Lomax. The FBI warns Mitch that his house, car, and office are bugged and pressures him to provide evidence against the firm and the Moroltos. Mitch agrees to cooperate in return for $1.5 million and the release of his brother Ray, who is serving time in an Arkansas prison. The FBI orders Ray's release, planning to return him to prison once Mitch hands over the incriminating files, and gives him half the money. Mitch confesses his one-night stand in the Caymans to Abby, who prepares to leave him.
When a client complains about billing for several hours of extra fees, Mitch realizes that mailing clients these padded bills is mail fraud, exposing the firm to RICO charges. He secretly copies the firm's billing records with help from Tammy, but needs files from Avery's house in the Caymans. Avery invites Abby to come with him to the Caymans and she declines, but he reveals his Caymans schedule has changed, threatening Mitch's plans. Telling Tammy not to inform Mitch, Abby flies to the Caymans to seduce and drug Avery. 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, copy, and return the files, a drowsy Avery tells Abby that the firm had arranged for the Caymans prostitute on the beach to seduce Mitch. Avery warns Abby to leave and is later murdered by DeVasher's hitmen, who make it look like he drowned in the bathtub.
Mitch's plans are jeopardized when a prison guard on the Moroltos' payroll alerts DeVasher after Ray is transferred to FBI custody without the usual formalities. Fleeing from DeVasher and his hitman, Mitch enters a building where DeVasher inadvertently shoots the hitman dead before Mitch blindsides him and beats him unconscious. Mitch meets with the Moroltos, presenting himself as a loyal attorney looking out for his clients' interests. He claims that his contact with the FBI and his copying of files were an attempt to expose the firm's illegal over-billing, and asks the Moroltos for permission to turn over their billing invoices to help the FBI's case against the firm. Revealing that he has made his own copies, he assures them that as long as he is alive, any information he has about their legal affairs is safe under attorney–client privilege. Guaranteeing Mitch's safety, the Moroltos reluctantly let him give the FBI the evidence it needs to prosecute the firm. Since the Moroltos were not tied to the mail fraud operations and attorney–client privilege does not apply when a lawyer knows about ongoing criminal activity, Mitch is able to continue his legal career, and reconciles with Abby.
The FBI is furious that Mitch bailed the Moroltos out, but Mitch reminds them that the evidence he provided falls under RICO's jurisdiction and can all but guarantee every senior member of the firm going to prison for decades. The film ends as the McDeeres return to Boston, driving the same well-used car in which they arrived in Memphis, while Ray, having been given the $750,000 Mitch obtained from the FBI by Tammy, enjoys his new life in the Caymans.
- Tom Cruise as Mitch McDeere, a promising recent Harvard Law graduate
- Jeanne Tripplehorn as Abby McDeere, Mitch's wife
- Gene Hackman as Avery Tolar, Mitch's mentor at the Firm
- Holly Hunter as 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 FBI 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
- Barbara Garrick as Kay Quinn, Lamar Quinn's wife who befriends both Abby and Mitch
- Steven Hill as FBI Director Denton Voyles
- Margo Martindale as Nina Huff, Mitch's Secretary
- Paul Sorvino as Tony Morolto
- Joe Viterelli as Joey Morolto
- Jerry Weintraub as 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, later identified as Abbie
- John Beal as Nathan Locke
- Paul Calderon as Thomas Richie
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. Hackman's name does appear in the beginning or end credits.
Differences from the novel
This table possibly contains original research. (June 2022)
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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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." 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". 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 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
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- 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. Archived from the original on 2012-07-15. Retrieved 2010-10-26.
- 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.
- The Firm Archived 2012-01-02 at the Wayback Machine at Box Office Mojo
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- The Firm review Archived 2021-05-17 at the Wayback Machine by James Berardinelli, ReelViews.net, 1993
- "Grisham v. Grisham: John Grisham issues judgment on ALL his novels" Archived 2009-06-26 at the Wayback Machine Tina Jordan, Entertainment Weekly, February 13, 2004
- NBC Unveils Fall Primetime Schedule for 2011–12 Season Archived 2021-05-17 at the Wayback Machine NBC press release at TheFutonCritic, May 15, 2011