Having successfully graduated from Harvard law school, Mitch McDeere (Cruise) turns down Wall St. to work for a smaller firm with the incentive of a brand new car and house and even a generous pay rise. It's not until further down the line that McDeere begins to realise there might have been a hitch.
Sydney Pollack's adaptation of John Grisham's 1991 bestseller is a big, lumbering, occasionally invigorating Star Vehicle, with most of the menace that propelled Grisham's gripping page-turner diluted in favour of a more Gary Grant-ish take on the classic Hollywood conspiracy thriller. Lacking the paranoia of Pollack's own Three Days Of The Condor, it's also gelatinous, sloppy and over-indulgent, yet somehow manages to make the grade as a pulpy, old-fashioned movie experience.
Tom Cruise is Mitch McDeere, a brash, grin-flashing hotshot, top in his Harvard law class and Wall Street-bound until the small Memphis law firm of Bendini, Lambert & Locke lure him down South with a stupendous salary, gorgeous house and new Mercedes. It seems too good to be true, and, of course, it is, with McDeere's more intuitive, earthy wife Abby (Tripplehorn) smelling a rat when wholesome cult-like firm members start sounding like a cross between Dan Quayle and the Stepford Wives. No one has ever left The Firm alive, but McDeere isn't totally clued into the fact that he's made a Faustian career deal with a pit of wire-tapping, blue-blooded vipers until abrasive cue ball FBI agent Ed Harris fills him in on Bendini's Mafia money-laundering ways and offers him two choices: break the legal code of honour and get enough dirt to indict the firm, or prepare for 20 years in the slammer when Bendini inevitably goes down.
This is a film powered along by several meaty and flamboyant character turns. Besides Harris, the more memorable etchings are made by Hackman, brilliant, as always, as Cruise's cynical, ultimately remorseful mentor, Avery Tolar; Gary Busey as a seedy private investigator; Holly Hunter as Busey's tarty secretary and Cruise's partner-in-Mob-busting; and David Strathairn as McDeere's wise, soulful convict brother. Indeed, without the performances, this would mostly be a non-starter, since Pollack didn't so much direct this as blandly guide it along the safest, risk-free path to commercial bonanza, making numerous plot changes en route from page to screen. Nonetheless, Cruise fans won't be disappointed and there are enough dizzying new twists in the somewhat convoluted final act to keep Grisham fans entertained without totally alienating them. Instantly forgettable, but with undeniable pulp appeal.
With Cruise still the relative new kid on the block, he was still aiming more for the mainstream than the smaller independent films he takes risks on now. Alongside him feature a stellar supporting cast in the first of many successful and not so successful Grisham adaptations. An average movie improved by Cruise's star appeal and accomplished supporting cast.