Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Softness of The Firm

Mitch McDeere (Tom Cruise): I know it's weird, but if we follow the law, it just might save us.

As I have mentioned here before, my parents were devotees of the mystery genre — books and movies (and similar things, like stage plays and TV shows).

Well, the past tense applies only to my mother. My father is still alive, and he still enjoys a good mystery.

I inherited a taste for some of my parents' preferences. I enjoy Hitchcock movies, for example, and I like Agatha Christie novels. But, in the spirit of full disclosure, there are some things I've never really warmed up to. Dad likes John Grisham novels (I don't know if Mom ever read one); I've never really developed a taste for them.

Consequently, I cannot explain why I went to see "The Firm," a Tom Cruise movie that was based on one of Grisham's best–selling novels and made its theatrical debut 20 years ago today. But I did. And I actually enjoyed it.

I can't say I watched it because of Tom Cruise. I have never been a Tom Cruise fan.

And it wasn't because I read the book and couldn't wait to see it on the big screen. I haven't read many Grisham novels in my life, but I know "The Firm" was not one of them.

Besides, I've heard the movie took considerable liberties with the story.

Perhaps it would have been received better if it had been true to the book. As it was, I found it hard to have much sympathy for Cruise or his wife (played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, who I honestly thought would see more of an upsurge of her visibility in movies than she had after appearing in 1992's "Basic Instinct," in which she played a rather small role as a police psychologist and Douglas' mistress.

(Tripplehorn's career, however, seems to have gravitated more to TV roles of late.)

In "The Firm," Cruise and Tripplehorn played a young, struggling couple in Boston, where Cruise was finishing his law school studies. Like generations of college students before them, they had lived a frugal lifestyle while Cruise was in school, but, upon his graduation, they were swamped with lucrative offers from law firms.

The most appealing offer came from a firm in Memphis. It was almost an offer that Cruise couldn't refuse, and he didn't.

But it wasn't long before Cruise and Tripplehorn came to realize that there was a big catch. Essentially, they had to sell their souls to the firm, something that Cruise was initially willing to do, but Tripplehorn was not.

One of my favorite scenes was when Cruise was being prepared by The Firm for his bar exam. Various associates were assigned to help him with different aspects of the law, and each enunciated the clear talking point — "No associate has ever failed the bar exam."

The obvious comparison that was made at the time the movie was showing on the big screen was that it was like the body snatchers tale told in "The Stepford Wives" — if memory serves, there were even references to "The Stepford Wives" in the movie itself — but I thought it was more reminiscent of "Rosemary's Baby," with Cruise being welcomed to the family of The Firm with open arms.

The Firm's corruption became clearer and clearer, and Cruise and Tripplehorn finally took steps to extricate themselves.

The movie itself was, I thought, overlong and a bit anticlimactic. But, whatever shortcomings the story had, I thought the acting was first rate. Cruise and Tripplehorn were strong in their roles — as were supporting actors like Gary Busey, Holly Hunter, Wilford Brimley, Hal Holbrook and Gene Hackman.

Of them all, I felt Hackman gave the best performance. As a burned out senior lawyer, he managed to do what only Gene Hackman could do with such a role — he made the character sympathetic. It was not a sympathetic role. I have no idea if it was treated as one in the book, but it took someone like Hackman to make it so in the movie.

The ending of the story did tie in with the bar exam, but I won't tell you how. Might as well let that be a surprise if you never saw the movie, but I'll warn you: it was hard for me to work up a great deal of interest by the time the movie ended. The supporting cast was good, as I said, but I just didn't feel as invested in the ending as I expect to feel when I see a good drama.

I don't consider that a failing of director Sydney Pollack or of the cast with which he worked, but something was missing. I expect he did the best he could with what he had.

"The Firm" was just too soft.