Sunday, July 3, 2011

THE FIRM: Blu-ray (Paramount 1993) Paramount Home Video


Based on John Grisham's exhilarating ‘legal beagle’ page turner, Sidney Pollack's The Firm (1993) is a harrowing cloak and dagger thriller that delves into the backroom espionage of a prestigious law firm whose biggest client happens to be the Mafia. The film stars Tom Cruise and Jeanne Tripplehorn as a naive and optimistic young couple whose world is about to be turned upside down. The screenplay by David Rabe, Robert Towne and David Rayfiel keeps the novel's high octane twists and turns but contains some glaring alterations that are in service of preserving Tom Cruise's persona as the all-American good guy.
In Grisham's novel, Cruise's character is out to get all he can from 'the firm' after he discovers their tainted past. He steals money from them to save his brother - money that is never recovered. In the film, Cruise simply exposes an overbilling fraud, convinces the FBI to fund him for helping to expose this illegal practice, then uses the money to give his brother a means of escape from jail. But Cruise's character also escapes legal prosecution with his reputation and ethics intact.
Cruise is Mitch McDeere, a brilliant law student at the head of his class. This earns him some fairly hefty offers to join just about every major law firm in the country. He chooses a modest firm in Memphis after they offer him a house, a car, moving expenses and more money than all the other offers combined as his base starting salary. Naturally, Mitch is ecstatic and so is his wife, Abigail (Tripplehorn). Abby's family is from old money. But wealth is a new concept to Mitch who had to struggle to put himself through law school.
Mitch is determined to pass the bar with flying colors and prove himself worthy of the firm's faith in him. Their senior partner, Oliver Lambert (Hal Holbrook) appoints another senior partner, Avery Tolar (Gene Hackman) as Mitch's mentor. Very soon, however, Mitch begins to realize that some of the firm's clientele are not exactly beautiful people. Avery takes Mitch to the Cayman Islands, presumably on business. However, while there he also sets Mitch up with a prostitute to use as blackmail just in case Mitch gets second thoughts about leaving the firm.
Mitch learns that two of the firm's senior partners who were working with clients in the Caymans have died under mysterious circumstances. At this point FBI agent Wayne Tarrance (Ed Harris) enters the picture. He informs Mitch of the firm's illegal money-laundering practices and threatens Mitch with imprisonment for his part in their activities unless he helps expose the firm by copying some of their illegal documents and handing them over to the FBI.
Mitch is in a catch 22. If he exposes the firm then he has betrayed the attorney/client privilege and will be disbarred, if not in fact killed by the Mafia first. If he defies the FBI and keeps the firm's secrets Mitch faces going to prison as a co-conspirator in their illegal activities. However, Mitch does have one ace in the hole; his brother, Ray (David Strathairn) who is currently serving time for illegal drug possession. Mitch blackmails Tarrance. If he expects him to rat out the firm then Tarrance must first release Ray from prison and pay to his account $750,000. After some legal haggling Tarrance reluctantly agrees. But his plans are to release Ray just long enough to get Mitch to comply and then arrest them both and send Ray back to prison.
On Ray's advice Mitch turns to private investigator Eddie Lomax (Gary Busey) to get some dirt on the firm. Sensing a stool pigeon in their midst, Oliver sends William Devasher (Wilfred Brimley) and his men to take care of the problem. Devasher's men kill Lomax while his secretary, Tammy Hemphill (Holly Hunter) is hiding under his desk. Tammy vows to avenge Eddie's murder by helping Mitch copy the files that Wayne needs to bust the firm's illegal practices wide open. Tammy also helps Ray elude being recaptured by the Feds. Ray escapes to the Caribbean with the $750,000 where he and Tammy plan to start a new life.
In the meantime Abigail learns about her husband and the prostitute. Her pride is wounded. But as she plans to divorce Mitch, Abby comes to realize just what a tight spot he is in. She decides to pretend to take Avery up on his offer of seduction in the Caymans'. Returning to his bungalow in search of evidence, Abby drugs Avery. The firm has had enough. Suspecting Avery of collusion, Devasher sends a hit squad to murder him in the Caymans. Abby escapes Avery's bungalow with the necessary files just before they arrive. She returns to Memphis with the proof Mitch needs to indict the firm. Devasher and his hit men pursue Mitch to an abandoned warehouse where he narrowly escapes being killed. Tarrance ends the bloodshed in a hailstorm of bullets. The firm is shut down and Abby and Mitch depart with a U-Haul in tow bound for Boston from whence all their troubles first began.
The Firm is nail-biting and taut entertainment. Apart from Top Gun, I have never been a Tom Cruise fan and it is saying much that despite this bias I rather enjoyed both Cruise's performance and the film as slick and stylishly packaged thrills. Sydney Pollack's direction is fast paced. He holds close to Grisham's text while ever so slightly tweaking it to suit the needs of his star. American audiences may appreciate an anti-hero but they generally love one that can redeem himself despite seemingly insurmountable odds. While Grisham's Mitch McDeere is a bit of a brute and a scamp, the film's take on the character is much more in keeping with Cruise’s toothy-grinned all-American. Mitch is a good guy trapped in bad circumstances.
Gene Hackman delivers another seductively sinful performance as the sexually promiscuous, devil-may-care attorney whose Teflon-coated exterior is about to be irreversibly tarnished. Even the minor performances of Busey, Tripplehorn, Hunter and Brimley click as they should. The one over the top exception is Ed Harris. Otherwise and in short, casting is inspired. The jury is in. The prosecution rests. The verdict is that The Firm is a winner!
So is the Blu-ray incarnation from Paramount Home Video. The 1080p image is outstanding in all respects. This is a reference quality visual presentation of a catalogue title. The image is crisp and refined. Colors are bold and fully saturated. Contrast levels are bang on. Fine detail is evident even during the darkest scenes. We get film grain faithfully reproduced as grain and not digitized grit. Truly, there is nothing to disappoint.
The audio is a DTS remastering that perfectly captures all the subtle sonic nuances in the original tracks. Dialogue is natural sounding. Effects and music are nicely spread throughout the channels, often with aggressiveness that give your speakers a workout. The Firm is primarily a dialogue driven movie and the audio is a complimentary to its equally perfect visuals. Regrettably, Paramount gives us NO extras.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4
VIDEO/AUDIO
5
EXTRAS
0

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