Directed by Sydney Pollack
Written by David Rabe and Robert Towne & David Rayfiel
John Grisham is one of the great pulp writers of our time. He is a best seller many times over, bringing sharp and exciting courtroom drama into the casual readers imagination. I suspect anyway, as I have not read any John Grisham novels. That is, until now. With the John Grisham project, I hope to go back and read every novel Grisham wrote that was made into a movie, and then watch the movie to go with it. To start, there was The Firm, one of Grisham’s most celebrated novels. To be clear, this is a movie review, not a book review, but because this project involves reading the book, I will certainly be referencing differences between the two, whether good or bad for the adaptation. And I must say that Grisham’s The Firm was a pleasant page turner, the type of style that is an easy thrill to get through, written somewhat basically in terms of language, but otherwise wildly effective in its storytelling. Let’s see whether Sydney Pollack’s film version can stand up to the novel.
Mitchell McDeere (Tom Cruise) is an in demand Harvard Law graduate who decides to settle on a small Memphis firm instead of the big shot firms on Wall Street. When he and his wife Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn) settle in Memphis, they think they have it all with the amazing offer the firm gave Mitch, but their relationship quickly strains when Mitch is working incessantly to impress his new bosses, including his mentor, partner Avery Tolar (Gene Hackman). Soon, Mitch is approached by an FBI agent (Ed Harris), who claims the firm he works for is not what it seems, and asks for his help in taking down the criminals he works for. After asking a PI (Gary Busey) to look into things, he turns up dead, but Mitch along with Abby and the PIs secretary (Holly Hunter) begin to unravel the mystery as they try to hide in plain sight while working to bring down the nefarious firm.
I guess I’ll actually start at the end and work my way backwards. While reading the book, I was fully engrossed, but ultimately found the ending to be entirely flat. A game of cat and mouse which, when put to the page, seems quite mundane and unexciting. However, my concern over the ending seems to have been one of the major issues that the filmmaking team decided to address, as they changed it all quite significantly, and for the better I must admit. Having that concern handled, and handled quite well I might add, goes a long way in my appreciation of this film. Endings can be everything, and odd as it may be, books may be good places for legal dealings, but movies are not, and they also cut out a good deal of things which were interesting to read about from a legal standpoint and instead focused on the more intense and exciting moments so we didn’t have to watch paint dry while Mitch researched something, or Tammy made copies.
Generally, the cast here is brilliant. It really seems that with the names involved, the studio decided to go all out with all stars all around, including director Sydney Pollack. A young Tom Cruise holds down the ship, and Jeanne Tripplehorn (who reminds me a great deal of Anne Hathaway) is fine too if not forgettable. But we also get to see Gene Hackman, Hal Holbrook, Ed Harris, and David Strathairn, all actors I enjoy. They all do a nice job, even if none give the best performance of their careers. That is sort of the summation of the film in my eyes. There is a lot of good here, and I mean a lot. And yet, it somehow fails to fully wow. There are good moments, but no great ones. There are good performances, but no great ones. It seems to lack a certain punch or signature moment or twist to put it over the top and make it a truly great film.
But that sounds negative, when it decidedly should not be. The Firm is a good, very enjoyable film which fixes many of the issues I had with the book. It’s a fine adaptation and a worthy film for any Grisham fan. I wouldn’t be completely surprised to find this to be among the best Grisham adaptations when I’ve made my way through the catalog, and that wouldn’t be a bad thing necessarily. Just as the book is a pulpy page turner, the movie is a joy ride best seen and soon forgotten. It’s the type of content that I expect from Grisham’s other novels and adaptations as I get to them. And that is to say that I am anticipating reading and seeing more, as I am sure there are some great stories there to enjoy. But I also don’t expect them to be at the level to contend for the best books I’ve read of movies I’ve seen. Maybe I’ll be wrong, we will see. Regardless, I can easily recommend The Firm, in both formats.