If this movie had come out a decade earlier I might have seen it before now. I went to a lot of horror movies in the 80s, which was my heyday for theater-going. Saying that isn’t to say I would have liked it, though. I may have consumed much, but even back then I didn’t just eat it up. Most of it sucked, and I knew it. The Boogens, My Bloody Valentine, Final Exam — Leprechaun would have fit right in. So why now?
Two words: Jennifer Aniston. In her first starring role. That these words now have a magic more powerful than a leprechaun’s is obvious. What was originally a poster showing the little gremlin peeking through a doorway is now a large photo of Aniston, with the little monster tucked away in a corner or shown, in silhouette, in the foreground. Even the tagline has changed: it used to say, “Your luck just ran out”; now it says, “Her luck just ran out.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not wild about Aniston. But I do miss Friends. And this movie was made the year before Friends started, so we’re talking about a very young and pretty Jennifer Aniston. I’ve seen movies with much less inducement, believe me.
Is she worth it? I mean, does she make the movie watchable? I thought for awhile she might. When we first see her, she’s wearing a short dress, and there’s a lovely shot of her walking up a flight of stairs — with the camera, of course, at ground level. Before long, however, she’s changed into an awful pair of shorts and, well, the magic was gone. Permanently.
Leprechaun made money, though, quite a lot of it. I suppose Mark Jones, who both wrote and directed the film, deserves kudos for coming up with an original monster. But I was never one of those who believed that the monster was the star. I stopped watching Hellraiser because it became all about Pinhead (or that’s my sense of it, anyway). I was disappointed (and a little disgusted) that Hannibal Lecter became the focus of the sequel to Silence of the Lambs. Even when I continued to watch — I saw Friday the 13th up to about #7 and I’ve seen four or five of the Halloween films — it wasn’t because of the monster, it was because of the scenario. That my enjoyment even then generally continued to decline is probably because I was missing the point: I was supposed to root for the bad guy. And I didn’t. So, yeah, evil leprechaun, that’s different. But who cares?
This movie isn’t any dumber than others of its ilk, but it isn’t any smarter, either. It’s about a leprechaun who wants to retrieve the gold that was stolen from him and who will kill anyone standing in his way. I guess it’s too much to ask that Jones do something clever with that idea, to do for leprechauns what Stephen Chiodo did for clowns in Killer Klowns From Outer Space. Too much — because what is there really to say about leprechauns? What are the jokes? I don’t know, and Jones clearly doesn’t either. In fact, he lifts a few from clowns: we see the sprite riding a tricycle and a toy motor car. It’s kind of pathetic.
Ah, but then, so am I. Why do I still think tilting my head will make the camera go lower?
If a novel has an edge — something in the story or in a character that goes against the grain of popular opinion — I typically balk when that element is softened or eliminated entirely in the adaptation. The Firm, directed by Sydney Pollack, is an exception. That it falls into this category cannot be doubted: both the hero, Mitch McDeere, and the story lack the hard edges they had in the book. But, this time, it works. Avoiding the usual Biblical prescription — if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out — screenwriters David Rabe, Robert Towne, and David Rayfiel instead change its shape and color, then remodel the whole face to suit the new configuration.
And yet, on one level, the story is very much the same. Bright, young Mitch McDeere gets an offer he can’t refuse from a small Memphis law firm and is shocked to discover that it’s all too good to be true. The partners (and most of the associates) are criminals and the whole firm has been targeted by the FBI. Either he cooperates with the FBI and discloses confidential client information (which will result in his disbarment) or he does nothing and gets swept up in the inevitable raid (and goes to jail with the rest of them). Or, he begins to wonder, is there a third option? Go any deeper, however, and the stories aren’t at all the same.
I’m tempted to say the book is more realistic and the movie more satisfying (although “realism,” in the thriller genre, is never less than equivocal and “satisfaction” depends, I suppose, on what you like). Perhaps it would be better to say that the book’s grit becomes the movie’s compassion. The book tells us that bad things happen to ambitious people; the movie tells us that bad things happen to good people. In any case, the movie is exceptional.
Tom Cruise plays Mitch, Jeanne Tripplehorn his wife, Abby, and Gene Hackman plays Avery Tolar, Mitch’s mentor in the firm. Their relationship forms a weird triangle (with Abby at the apex) that was not a part of the book, but which is integral to the film’s good guy approach. It was kind of fun to watch book-Mitch sink into the bowels of Bendini, Lambert & Locke; movie-Mitch is more human and easier to identify with, making his plight more dreadful. The triangle — it forms naturally from differences in the plot and the characters — heightens the suspense.
The cast is excellent, and it needed to be. A completely faithful adaptation could have gotten away with character types rather than characters, but this movie needed more. And it gets it, even in the smaller roles: Ed Harris as FBI agent Tarrance, Gary Busey as a private investigator and Holly Hunter as his secretary/assistant/lover, and Hal Holbrook and Wilford Brimley trying to hold down the fort at the firm. These are veteran actors, and they give their roles weight and nuance, bringing the characters to life.
And that’s the big difference here, the way the movie shifts emphasis from plot to people. (Don’t expect the same ending. Like most everything else, it’s similar but different. Both are right — for the stories they’re telling — and neither would have worked if shoehorned into the other.) This is why, though I thoroughly enjoyed the book, that I like the movie better. I like Mitch more, and Abbey, and Avery. But I can see it going the other way for other readers and other viewers. Either way, The Firm is one of the best book/movie tandems out there.
This is the story of Mitch McDeere, fresh out of law school, who joins a small Memphis tax firm for the money and the perks, only to discover he should have paid more attention to the fine print, such as the fact that no lawyer has ever the left the firm alive.
It’s a legal mystery-thriller that scores high on the first two elements and about average on the third, which makes it a pretty darn good book. Let’s start at the top.
It isn’t about law, but about lawyers (though Grisham cleverly bases the underlying crime of the novel on the only appealing thing about tax law: the many ways of circumventing it). And it’s mostly about Mitch, the rookie, and how he has to prove with his work ethic and hours that his profession really is as important as medicine. Before long, he’s coming to the office at four in the morning and leaving near midnight. This doesn’t sit too well with his young wife, Abby, but the other wives tell her it’s only temporary; after a year or two, he’ll cut back to 70 hours a week or so, and might even take Sunday off. Might.
Grisham, the lawyer, makes all of this fun: the poor, hungry kid trying to make an impression; the solicitous partners; the friendly associates. You know something bad is going to happen to Mitch, and it’s almost funny watching his ambition and greed lead him deeper into the deception of Bendini, Lambert & Locke.
The mystery, of course, is the firm itself, which is sort of like a mini-Stepford. Why does the firm hire only married lawyers straight out of law school, and why only men? Why does it “encourage” children? On the darker side, what about those portraits in the library, the ones of the dead lawyers? How come no one has ever left the firm? The answers aren’t as pleasurable as the suspense (they rarely are), but for all its activity and camaraderie, it’s a creepy place and a good setting.
If Grisham had been an FBI agent instead of a lawyer, I might have liked the “law” a little less and the action a little more, and maybe it would have evened out. That said, Grisham handles the action reasonably well. Yes, Mitch is too smart and yes, the bad guys and the “Fibbies” aren’t always smart enough, but the author avoids some of the most egregious clichés that plague this type of story. To give just one example, remarkably few people die once Mitch joins the firm. Favoring suspense over fisticuffs works very well here. One of the book’s most exciting scenes involves one of the partners, two women, and a copier.
The Firm was a bestseller and that isn’t always a compliment. But in this case, it is. It’s solid entertainment from beginning to end.