The Firm

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson


Paramount, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC] & Dolby Surround, subtitles: English, single side-dual layer, 19 chapters, 2 Theatrical Trailers, rated R, 154 min., $29.99, street date 5/23/2000.

Studio Line

Academy Awards: Nominated for Best Supporting Actress-Holly Hunter, Best Original Score, 1994.

Directed by Sydney Pollack. Starring Tom Cruise, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Gene Hackman, Hal Holbrook, Terry Kinney, Wilford Brimley, Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, David Strathairn, Gary Busey.

Three-time Oscar nominee Tom Cruise delivers the most electrifying performance of his career in this riveting film based on the international best-seller.

Cruise plays Mitch McDeere, a brilliant and ambitious Harvard Law grad. Driven by a fierce desire to bury his working-class past, Mitch joins a small, prosperous Memphis firm that affords Mitch and his wife (Jeanne Tripplehorn) an affluent lifestyle beyond their wildest dreams. But when FBI agents confront him with evidence of corruption and murder within the firm, Mitch sets out to find the truth in a deadly crossfire between the FBI, the Mob, and a force that will stop at nothing to protect its interest -- The Firm.

Directed by Oscar winner Sydney Pollack and starring Oscar winner Gene Hackman plus a magnificent supporting cast, The Firm makes its case as the must-see movie of the year.

Picture/Sound/Extras (C+/B-/D-)

Because I see so many movies, I rarely read fiction; if I want to peruse a book, I prefer material that doesn't translate well into films. As such, I knew little about hugely successful author John Grisham and his world of lawyer-oriented thrillers before they started to appear as movies with 1993's The Firm. After six years and six more movies, the Grisham gold rush appears ended, probably due to a case of declining returns. Each subsequent offering seemed to do worse at the box office until there appeared to be little reason to pursue the franchise; the final film to date, 1998's The Gingerbread Man, received just a limited release and only took in about $1.5 million, which didn't do much to cover the movie's $25 million budget.

Things started so positively in 1993 with The Firm that one can't fault studios for milking the Grisham formula for all it was worth. It took in nearly $160 million in the US - by far the highest gross of any of the Grisham movies - and probably was the most successful as a film. It started what became the stock formula for a Grisham adaptation - hot leading man backed with a cast of well-established and solid supporting actors led by a successful director - and turned it into a decent little thriller.

Not by any stretch of the imagination would I call The Firm a great film. In reality, it's fairly mediocre. Nonetheless, its strengths are enough to make it watchable and enjoyable, though at 154 minutes, it seems at least a half an hour too long.

The plot revolves around hotshot law school grad Mitch McDeere (hotshot actor Tom Cruise); Mitch did pretty well for himself at Harvard and receives stunning offers to work at a number of big law firms. The best deal, however, comes from a small group in Memphis, and he quickly grabs this package. Everything seems perfect, but inevitably, concerns arise virtually immediately. Pretty soon Mitch discovers that "the firm" is not exactly a great place to work, and he becomes ensnared in some nasty business that may threaten his life.

And on it goes. The story gets pretty convoluted at times as other elements - the Mafia, the FBI - enter the picture, but it all wraps up neatly by the end. Ultimately, The Firm offers a pretty rote thriller that is made palatable mainly due to a terrific cast. We find stalwarts such as Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, Wilford Brimley, Holly Hunter, Gary Busey and David Strathairn in this group, and though none of them stand out in their roles, their presences make the project more compelling.

But not anything beyond that. I like Cruise well enough, and he's more than able to lead a film such as this, but that's not saying much; The Firm is a superficially-enjoyable suspense film, but ultimately it offers little substance and doesn't provide enough thrills to merit much consideration. It seems like a "nothing better to watch" kind of movie; I didn't mind viewing it, but I certainly wouldn't go out of my way to do so.

The Firm appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While not a terrible picture, I did find that it appeared rather inconsistent and the quality really varied quite a lot throughout the movie.

Sharpness presents many of the DVD's problems. Most of the time, it looks clear, clean and well-defined, but quite often some serious softness intrudes; this generally affects interior scenes, but even some daylight shots appeared surprisingly fuzzy. Moiré effects and jagged edges are an occasional problem, and I also noticed periodic artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. The print itself appeared largely free of defects; I noticed minor speckling but saw no evidence of grain, scratches, hairs or other flaws.

Colors seemed decent but unexceptional; I saw no problems with bleeding or chroma noise, but I didn't think the hues looked bright or bold enough to merit any kind of special mention. Black levels seemed nicely dark and deep, and shadow detail was acceptable, though at times it appeared overly opaque. The Firm generally looks good, and it never seems unwatchable; unfortunately, I expect a little more than that from a fairly recent, big budget movie, and this DVD doesn't live up to those expectations. As such, it earns a slightly above-average "C+".

Somewhat better is the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. This soundfield stays pretty firmly rooted in the front spectrum, where it does nicely for itself. The imagery provided by the forward three speakers is really quite good. The mix presents a lot of strong ambient sound from the side channels, and all of the audio blends together very smoothly. The front soundstage is so good that it largely makes up for the relative disuse of the surrounds. The rears tend to bolster the film's score, and they also provide some occasional effects, but there's no indication any effort was made to create a surround mix that really involved the viewer; as such, the front speakers carry the show.

Audio quality appears solid throughout the movie. Dialogue sounds warm and natural, and I had no trouble understanding speech at any time. Effects were clear and realistic, and they lacked distortion. Dave Grusin's piano score came across especially nicely, as it sounds bright and full, with some good depth to the range as well. The audio mix for The Firm certainly won't make your list of "demo DVDs", but it succeeds reasonably well.

Less positive are the DVD's supplements. Although they've shown signs of life recently, Paramount still tend to release almost featureless discs, and The Firm fits that mold. We find a theatrical trailer - which includes one snippet not seen in the finished movie - and a teaser, which provides a vaguely creepy voice-over from Hal Holbrook that was intended solely for the promo. One theoretically interesting note: between the release of the teaser and the theatrical trailers, the movie's release date was changed from July 2 to June 30. (The year isn't specified, but it was 1993.)

No, that last bit of trivia wasn't exactly fascinating, but neither was the movie, so it makes for a nice fit. The Firm offers a generally enjoyable but fairly unexceptional little thriller. It boasts a terrific cast but doesn't do much with most of them, and the movie just coasts along until it reaches its respectably exciting conclusion. The DVD provides a problematic but watchable picture, pretty good audio, and virtually no supplements. Fans of either John Grisham or Tom Cruise may want to rent this one, but that's about the most I can recommend.

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