|'If The Firm was made today the budget would be single-figure millions, it wouldn't have a chance at getting Cruise and it would be on the checkout aisle shelves of TESCO for £6 within months.'|
At the time this won't have seemed like the case but The Firm, released in 1993, heralds the veritable end of the Thriller genre as we knew it in the 1980s and 1990s. With a good plot, script and star, Sydney Pollack's take on the John Grisham novel doesn't need much Action or even budget (it was made for $42 million and took $158 million). It doesn't give its audience the answers to its mystery easily, or make any claim that 'hero' Mitch (Tom Cruise) isn't in some ways complicit in his own downfall. It's a great example of the Thriller done properly, focusing on plot and reveal, bait and hook. If it was made today the budget would be single-figure millions, it wouldn't have a chance at getting Cruise and it would be on the checkout aisle shelves of TESCO for £6 within months. Hey ho.
Pollack also knew how to do this genre like the back of his hand. You can recognise in The Firm much of the paranoia on display in Three Days Of The Condor, which the director made almost twenty years previously. Instead of Robert Redford at the height of his powers in Condor, here he has a Tom Cruise in his prime, just before the days of the Cruise/Wagner productions that took him from 'A-List' to 'the only person on the list'. The Firm marks the end of a run of films that started with Top Gun in 1986; an incredibly dense collection of nine films in just seven years that cemented his power, all of which are seminal in their own way, with the possible exception of Far And Away, which I haven't seen. After this there is only 1994's Interview With The Vampire, before the franchise-building of Mission: Impossible begins and Cruise's career goes into the stratosphere.
The Firm's problems are nitpicks, but nevertheless present. The security guy at 'The Firm' (Wilford Brimley) isn't half as scary as he needs to be, for a start, completely failing to convince that he can orchestrate the two distinctive assassins who carry out much of the plot's darker deeds. Considering too that the film takes place in Memphis, there's little sense of place in a city that has oodles of it. A much-parodied scene of Cruise doing backflips with a street performer is as close as it gets, hinting that perhaps there was something there in the script at some point, but its isolation only serves to show that there's nothing else of its ilk anywhere else in the film. Mitch's suburban house could be in up state New York or Oregon. A late plot movement also relies on a relationship between Avery (Gene Hackman) and Mitch's wife Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn), but that relationship is never there on any level. When Avery shows up at the school Abby works at he is about as out of place as anything else in the film. It doesn't work and serves only the area of the plot which requires Avery and Abby to be in the same place at the right time.
The rest of the film though is a classic and close-to-perfect Thriller. Mitch is neither smart enough to see through the money offered him to the problems, nor stupid enough to never have been offered the money in the first place. His orchestrated downfall, whilst away with Avery, is made believable by Pollack's direction and the script's nous; Mitch's relevant intelligence is again balanced, as he avoids one type of honey pot, only to fall for another. Small elements like this build, until the point is reached at which Mitch's has accumulated enough intelligence to extract himself from threat. The neat ends are perhaps tied a little too tightly but, nevertheless, you can't argue that it's not satisfying.
The Firm was playing on Netflix.