Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Film Review: THE FIRM (1993, Sydney Pollack)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 154 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Tom Cruise, Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Gary Busey, Holly Hunter, Jeanne Tripplehorn (BIG LOVE, WATERWORLD), Paul Calderon (Q&A, THE KING OF NEW YORK, PULP FICTION), Tobin Bell (SAW), David Strathairn (HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, THE RIVER WILD), Hal Holbrook (THE FOG, MAGNUM FORCE), Wilford Brimley (THE THING, HARD TARGET), Paul Sorvino (GOODFELLAS, DICK TRACY). Based on the novel by John Grisham. Screenplay by Robert Towne (CHINATOWN, THE LAST DETAIL), playwright David Rabe (HURLYBURLY, STREAMERS), and David Rayfiel (THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR).
Tag-line: "Power can be murder to resist." Hmmm. I think the tag-line department was phoning that one in a little bit.
Best one-liner: "It's not sexy, but it's got teeth!"

Well, I'm continuing Hitchcock pastiche/homage week with something a little less obvious. Maybe because it so frequently has the 'feel' or NORTH BY NORTHWEST, THE 39 STEPS, or SABOTEUR, or maybe it's just because it has Gary Busey and I felt like it, but regardless, here it is.

I get the feeling that most people watch THE FIRM because they either like John Grisham, Tom Cruise, or the more sensational aspects of the legal system.

America's infatuation with 'Tom Cruise running' continues.

Well allow me to furnish you with 9 ALTERNATE reasons to check it out:

#1. It begins like a TWILIGHT ZONE. Though I knew it wouldn't take the supernatural route, having kindly old Hal Holbrook rolling out a foreboding red carpet in an eerily over-eager job recruitment process is Serling-ly terrific.

I think I saw this on the back of a phone book once.

#2. Wilford Brimley. It's always nice to see Willy get a meaty character role he can really sink his teeth into: '93 was a big year for him- he was the crazed Cajun uncle in HARD TARGET and here, the nefarious head of firm security.

Wild Willy is not fucking around. And he doesn't like it when you call him 'Wild Willy.'

#3. If the legal thriller's not really your style, you can always pretend that it's SOUL MAN 2, and that Cruise is the C. Thomas Howell character, post-Harvard graduation.

#4. Gary Busey. Toned down a tad by the studio, the Buse' is still toothy, potent, and full of inimitable Texan moxie. He's not in the film for long, but whenever he's on screen, you are having a goddamn ball. He even works in an unscripted Julio Iglesias reference. (I'm kinda reminded of THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY when he works in the name 'Chihuahua Garbanzo.')

Busey is apprehensive and about to mention 'Julio Iglesias.'

#5. Holly Hunter. Oscar-nominated for the role, she's dressed like Dolly Parton and making more wig changes than Louis XIV. She's almost as nuts as Busey, and I love it. Which leads me to:

#6. Busey and Holly making out. Did I mention she plays his secretary?


#7. Cruise doing backflips with a breakdancin' kid on the street. Later, when dejected, he woefully passes by the same kid- no backflippin' this time.

#8. Skeezy Gene Hackman. Always golden. The poor guy was basically typecast post-Lex Luthor, but you get the feeling he loves it.

#9. Ed "I could kick your teeth down your throat and yank 'em out your asshole" Harris.


Eating Saltines, radiating profanity, and with Paul Calderon as his sidekick- yeah, it's intense.

Ed Harris eyes Strathairn with disdain.

In all, it's a solid Hitchcockian thriller with enough (Busey) screwiness and (Harris) intensity to keep you on board. Four stars.

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

I'm probably the only one on the planet who hasn't seen this film (I remember it being a pretty big deal back in the deal) and it keeps popping up on TV (thank you TNT/TBS) so I figure one of these days I'll take the plunge. Plus, I dig Ed Harris.

Sean Gill said...

Yeah, I didn't see it for the first time until a few weeks ago- very serviceable, but it's Busey, Harris, Hunter, and Brimley that push it over the edge for me.

J.D. said...

True. That is a pretty stellar cast. Alto, I don't know if I can stomach watching Busey and Hunter make out!

Mike B. said...

Coming in late as usual, but why not! Those backflipping kids are a big deal in Memphis, my hometown. They even perform at halftime at NBA games as "the Beale St. Flippers." It's one of those weird local traditions that's been going on forever but no one seems to know any reason or origin story for it, similar to the ducks at the Peabody Hotel. What really makes me comment is that even though I went through a "The Firm" phase many years ago, I had no idea that was Ed Harris (obviously my "Creepshow" phase didn't arrive until later), but it all makes sense now. I love the scene where he orders the steak sandwiches "on the rolls."

Sean Gill said...

Nice! Did not know the whimsical back-flipping kids had a whole backstory. And you gotta love Harris, no matter what.