It’s a pretty apt title: The firm is as foursquare and functional as a conference table made out of Hollywood hardwood. As with all well-crafted furniture, the secret’s in the support. Sydney Pollack’s adaptation of the John Grisham best-seller may be the very model of the modern movie blockbuster-it has a script that’s confidently pop- smart, a top-of-the-line star, and a running time padded just enough to feel Important. With all that, the real reason The Firm satisfies so grandly is the old-fashioned richness of its secondary cast.
Of course, most people will rent this tape to see Tom Cruise play Mitch McDeere, the hotshot young lawyer who discovers to his horror that his ritzy Memphis firm is the main representation for the Chicago branch of the Mafia. And Cruise doesn’t disappoint. On the contrary, it’s exactly the kind of meaty, middlebrow role at which this actor excels. Cruise is seeming more and more the Tyrone Power of his generation. He has the looks, charisma, and acting chops to do more than get by; he plays consistent, reliable heroes who are (usually) appealing enough not to seem priggish or smug. Power finally showed some kinks in 1947’s geek-noir Nightmare Alley, and who knows? Maybe Cruise’s dark side will surface in Interview With the Vampire.
For now, though, it’s other actors who tend to let their hair down in Tom Cruise movies. (Remember Anthony Edwards in Top Gun? Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men?) The Firmis no different: The star carries the melody while the supporting cast sings harmony. Pollack knows this and he’s loaded for bear, hiring known performers who bring their movie pasts to Grisham’s character templates. It’s kind of like what John Huston did for Dashiell Hammett in 1941’s The Maltese Falcon, matching up Bogie to the part of Sam Spade, Peter Lorre to Joel Cairo, etc. The Firm’s no Falcon, obviously: It’s too ponderous, too self-serious, and there’s a pointless chase scene that drags out the last half hour. But the fruity secondary performances have a sense of play that happens only when moviemaking machinery is clicking on all cylinders. Here’s a guide to some of the cogs. B+