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The Firm (Best Buy Exclusive) Blu-ray Review

The Firm (1993) movie poster The Firm

Theatrical Release: July 2, 1993 / Running Time: 155 Minutes / Rating: R / Songs List

Director: Sydney Pollack / Writers: John Grisham (book); David Rabe, Robert Towne, David Rayfiel (screenplay)

Cast: Tom Cruise (Mitchell Y. McDeere), Gene Hackman (Avery Tolar), Jeanne Tripplehorn (Abby McDeere), Ed Harris (Wayne Tarrance), Holly Hunter (Tammy Hemphill), Wilford Brimley (William Devasher), Hal Holbrook (Oliver Lambert), David Strathairn (Ray McDeere), Steven Hill (F. Denton Voyles), Terry Kinney (Lamar Quinn), Barbara Garrick (Kay Quinn), Jerry Hardin (Royce McKnight), Tobin Bell (The Nordic Man), Gary Busey (Eddie Lomax), Paul Calderon (Thomas Richie), Jerry Weintraub (Sonny Capps), Sullivan Walker (Barry Abanks), Karina Lombard (Young Woman on Beach), Margo Martindale (Nina Huff), John Beal (Nathan Locke), Dean Norris (The Squat Man), Lou Walker (Frank Mulholland), Paul Sorvino (Tommie Morolto - uncredited), Joe Viterelli (Joey Morolto - uncredited)

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The 1990s were good to John Grisham. Besides bursting on the literary scene with a string of #1 bestsellers, the Southern lawyer-turned-writer of Southern legal dramas made as large an impact on the decade's cinema as any author. When the '90s ended, so too did Grisham's Hollywood career, for the most part. CBS' Hallmark Hall of Fame adapted his first non-legal novel in 2003, the same year that Runaway Jury unpunctually arrived in theaters (with its hot button issue changed from Big Tobacco to gun control).
In 2004, his uncharacteristic holiday comedy Skipping Christmas became the critically unloved but profitable Christmas with the Kranks and Mickey, a family-friendly baseball flick, became his second little-known original film writing credit. Grisham has continued to write both in and out of the legal genre, publishing a novel every year, but the movie adaptations have stopped.

Even so, no one can say that Grisham didn't have a great run in show business. The movies began with The Firm. Released in the summer of 1993, this filming of Grisham's second book (and first bestseller) starred Tom Cruise at the height of his popularity. It would gross $158 million in North America, making it the fourth highest-earning film of the year, the third highest-grossing film in Cruise's career to date, and the fifth highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time. Domestically and worldwide, it still stands as Grisham's top-performing adaptation. It also got strong reviews and even picked up two Oscar nominations (Holly Hunter for Supporting Actress and Dave Grusin for Original Score).

Outside the Lincoln Memorial, Mitch McDeere (Tom Cruise) has some troubling information revealed to him about the Memphis law firm that recently hired him. Bald, persistent FBI Agent Wayne Tarrance (Ed Harris) surprises Mitch with his unexpected appearance at a Washington conference.

Cruise plays Mitch McDeere, who ranks among the top five students in Harvard Law School's graduating class. Accordingly, Mitch is courted by all the top law firms from all around the nation. His richest offer comes not from one of the big city powerhouses but from Berdini, Lambert & Locke, a small tax firm in Memphis consisting of 41 lawyers. Mitch is the confident firm's only recruit and they are as attracted by his personal life as his scholastic achievement. The firm prides itself on stability and with his marriage to schoolteacher Abigail (Jeanne Tripplehorn), Mitch seems to have that. While Mitch is quickly sold on Berdini, Lambert & Locke, Abby has her doubts over this utopian institution, with their uniform workforce (all married white men) and unparalleled loyalty (not one resignation to date).

The McDeeres settle into their furnished new home, which Mitch sees very little of, being instantly thrown into endless billable work hours. The job's demands create cracks in the young couple's contentment, but Mitch enjoys the work, where he is mentored by charming veteran partner Avery Tolar (Gene Hackman, fresh off his Unforgiven Oscar win, appearing in his first of three Grisham movies). Mitch accompanies Avery to the Cayman Islands, where the firm does a fair amount of business and where two of its lawyers recently died in a diving boat explosion.

Those suspicious deaths, the fourth in the firm's young history, pique Mitch's curiosity, particularly after he is approached a couple of coy FBI agents. Mitch brings his concerns to an ex-con private eye (Gary Busey, memorably eccentric in his two scenes), who soon after turns up dead. With his options limited and his own life evidently in jeopardy, Mitch considers cooperating with the FBI (led by a bald, fiery Ed Harris), who are eager to bust the firm for the organized crime that makes up the bulk of its business.

Before uncovering the deadly conspiracy and corruption of his new workplace, long hours apart take a toll on young married couple Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and Mitch (Tom Cruise). The same year that she won her first Best Actress Oscar, Holly Hunter picked up a supporting actress nomination as secretary Tammy Hemphill, Mitch's accomplice in trying to take down the firm.

The Firm is not your typical legal film. For instance, just one brief, insignificant scene is set in a courtroom. And yet the law and Mitch's respect for it drive this entire conspiracy thriller in no uncertain terms. Adapted by three accomplished scribes (Tony-winning playwright David Rabe, Chinatown Oscar winner Robert Towne, and 40-year veteran David Rayfiel, The Firm is gripping storytelling from start to finish. Under the direction of Sydney Pollack (Tootsie, Out of Africa), the film's premise unfolds with precision and a wealth of intrigue.

Given a judicious 155 minutes, the film takes its time for us to get comfortable with characters and settings, always advancing the story and raising the stakes. As often happens in Grisham's densely-plotted tales, questions -- if not definite holes -- arise with scrutiny.
And yet on the surface, everything makes complete sense as Mitch's situation grows increasingly more dire. The film's final act is downright Hitchcockian, top-notch suspense crafted with minimal dialogue and maximum impact. Even if the climax feels prolonged and its resolution awfully tidy, the film never buckles or disappoints.

Though a lesser effort wouldn't be, The Firm is a real actors' film that delights with characterization and performances. Cruise's protagonist is not all that different from a couple of other high-profile ones he played around this time (unresolved parental issues motivate him and he even has a troubled older brother named Ray), but he plays the part splendidly, holding our support throughout. The same year she won Best Actress for The Piano, Holly Hunter received a Supporting Actress nomination for her turn as the permed secretary to Busey's private eye who becomes an unexpectedly reliable ally to Mitch. She does great work in her limited screentime and she's not alone.

Security chief Wilford Brimley surprises Mitch not with diabetes testing supplies from Liberty but incriminating photos from the Cayman Islands. Veteran partner Avery Tolar (Gene Hackman, in his first of three Grisham movies) pays a visit to the school playground where his protege's wife is supervising recess and invites her to join him on his imminent business trip.

We also get strong support from the slimy yet sympathetic Hackman; Hal Holbrook, fatherly but with a hint of menace as one of the firm's namesake chiefs; Wilford Brimley, intimidating as the firm's head of security; and Tobin Bell (Jigsaw from the Saw franchise) as an unsettling pursuer billed only as The Nordic Man. Along with the fine Harris and Busey, any one of these men could have been singled out for commendation. There is no question that careers were advanced by this movie.

Grisham's name has not been on Hollywood mouths in a while, but maybe that is starting to change. The recent, well-reviewed The Lincoln Lawyer reminded many of Matthew McConaughey's star-making role fifteen years earlier in Grisham's A Time to Kill. There has been talk of a Paramount Pictures adaptation of The Associate since before the book was published in early 2009, with The Departed screenwriter William Monahan, Top Gun and Denzel Washington action director Tony Scott, and Shia LaBeouf all reportedly attached. More recently and definitively, NBC has ordered a 22-episode hour-long TV series of "The Firm" to begin airing in September. If realized, that would be the second show adapted from a Grisham novel, following "John Grisham's The Client", which ran on CBS in 1995-96. A pilot for "The Street Lawyer" (featuring, among other actors, Hal Holbrook) was produced in 2003 but not picked up or aired by Disney/ABC's Touchstone Television.

Perhaps The Firm will make its Blu-ray debut in general retail around the same time that the TV show hits the air. That would be two years later than the movie was first scheduled to appear on the format. Until then, you can get The Firm in high definition exclusively from Best Buy, beginning Sunday, May 29th.

The Firm Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy exclusively from BestBuy.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: May 29, 2011 (Best Buy Exclusive)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $22.98
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Still available on DVD ($12.98 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Firm was framed in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio at a time when that was often used. Per Paramount's practices, the film is presented in 1.78:1 here. The 1080p picture is stunning. From flavorful downtown Memphis to the scenic Grand Cayman Islands (playing themselves), the film is nicely shot and easy to admire with the transfer's natural colors and terrific detail. In a few places, there is slight grain presumably true to the original exhibition.

The Blu-ray's default soundtrack is a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix. This represented my first exposure to that lossless audio format, which in contrast to DVD, has been less preferred to DTS' offering. I'm not enough of an audiophile to notice how this might have differed to a DTS-HD track. I can say I was pleased with what the TrueHD delivered. The mix is largely limited to the front channels, but the dialogue that drives the movie is always crisp and clear. There's also a satisfactory modicum of surround atmosphere, where appropriate, plus two Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs and five different subtitle options.

The memorable Hal Holbrook-narrated teaser trailer for "The Firm" consists of a long uninterrupted shot that moves from inside a law library to this shot of the firm building. Though not reused as cover art, this shot of Tom Cruise running inside his cheek still stands as the Blu-ray's menu image.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The Firm's Blu-ray retains all the bonus features of its 2000 DVD.
Unfortunately, that consists of just two original ads for the film: a unique teaser (1:42) narrated by Hal Holbrook that plays like a firm recruitment video and a more routine theatrical trailer (2:39) that seems to sample some unused bits. Both previews are effective and both are presented in HD.

The Blu-ray's static, silent menu screen is simply the film's poster and video cover art, from which this edition represents the first divergence. Listings expand upward. Java-encoded, the disc does not support resuming playback, but it does make use of bookmarks.

The new artwork features a color three-quarters close-up shot of Cruise's frazzled head. That adorns both the standard slim eco-friendly Blu-ray case and the cardboard slipcover that slides over it, the latter displaying a sticker touting Best Buy's exclusivity.

A few cracked smiles reveal that this gathering of the 41 lawyers of Memphis firm Berdini, Lambert & Locke, led by Lambert (Hal Holbrook), is not as serious and shady as it first seems.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Firm's Blu-ray debut misses the opportunity to provide bonus features that a film as successful as this ought to have. Still, it offers an exquisite feature presentation, undoubtedly the best the movie has gotten since its original theatrical release. I've enjoyed Grisham's absorbing stories both in print and on film. As far as the latter medium is concerned, I would rank Sydney Pollack's fine adaptation as the second best Grisham movie to date (behind The Client). Though only narrowly predating the age of cell phones and the Internet with the use of faxes, copiers, and pagers, The Firm nonetheless holds up remarkably well as a compelling and suspenseful film. Movies like this endeared me to 1990s cinema and continue to do so today. While Paramount's Blu-ray does not exceed expectations, it certainly meets them and at a reasonable price. I recommend it.

Support great cinema and this site:
Buy The Firm on Blu-ray exclusively at Best Buy

Buy on DVD from Amazon.com / Buy the Book by John Grisham

Related Reviews:
John Grisham's The Rainmaker (Special Collector's Edition) Primal Fear The Verdict (Collector's Edition)
New: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Criterion Collection Blu-ray) The Murder of Mary Phagan The Rite
Starring Tom Cruise: Eyes Wide Shut Knight and Day | Hal Holbrook: Wall Street Into the Wild That Evening Sun
Holly Hunter: Broadcast News | Ed Harris: Gone Baby Gone Nixon The Way Back National Treasure: Book of Secrets
Gene Hackman: Enemy of the State (Special Edition) | Written by Robert Towne: Chinatown (Special Collector's Edition)

The Firm Songs List (in order of use): Robben Ford & The Blue Line - "Start It Up", The Lannie McMillan Quartet - "The Firm Shuffle", The Lannie McMillan Quartet - "Another Cup of Coffee", The Lannie McMillan Quartet - "Sweet Memphis", Clair Marlo Orchestra - "Save the Best for Last", Jack Allocco - "Maple Drive", Charlie Rich - "Don't Put No Headstone on My Grave", Andy Narell - "Out of the Blue", Andy Narell - "Down De Road", T-Bone Walker - "Stormy Monday", George Nowak, Henry Leslie, Mark McTaggard & Harry Johnston - "Money, Money, Money", Ollie Nightingale - "I Sho Do", Lyle Lovett - "M-O-N-E-Y", Dave Samuels - "Dance Class", Little Jimmy King - "Guitar Blues", Jimmy Buffett - "Stars on the Water", James White - "Blame it on the Rum", Philharmonia Orchestra - "Oboe Concerto in D Minor - Adagio", Nanci Griffith - "Never Mind"

Buy The Firm: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
(Songs and Original Music by Dave Grusin)
at Amazon.com.

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Reviewed May 15, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1993 Paramount Pictures and 2011 Paramount Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.