Mitch McDeere (Cruise) is a recent Harvard Law graduate who is offered a prestigious position as a litigator at the law firm Bendini, Lambert & Locke, headed by co-founder Oliver Lambert (Hal Holbrook), and soon finds himself showered with gifts, money and a new car. At the same time, he strikes up a friendship with senior partner Avery Tolar (Gene Hackman) and begins to learn the ins and outs of the law field. Mitch and his wife Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn) are living the good life - until two associates who worked with the firm are mysteriously murdered. Unaware of what's going on, Mitch is contacted by the FBI, headed by Agent Wayne Tarrance (Ed Harris), and told that the firm is a corrupt group of lawyers with massive influence and connections to the mob. Faced with the prospect of losing his career and his wife, and with more people being murdered, Mitch realizes the only way he'll get out alive is to follow his own plan.
The Firm was the first film adaptation of a Grisham novel, and featured an All-Star Cast of actors. The film was commercially and critically successful (racking up $270 million against a $42 million budget), and led to further adaptations of Grisham's works.
A television series based on the film began airing in January 2012 on NBC, and was developed by Entertainment One Productions. The plot picks up ten years after the events of the movie, with Mitch (played by Josh Lucas) and his family deciding to leave the FBI's Witness Protection Program in order to "take back their lives". After he attempts to start his own law firm in Washington, McDeere is solicited by a bigger firm, Kinross & Clark, who brings him onboard as a litigator. At the same time, the son of one of the mob bosses indicted as a result of Mitch's actions a decade before swears vengeance on the attorney and his family.
The film provides examples of:
- Adaptation Distillation: The ending of the book and film are radically different. Whereas Mitch uses his circumstances to skim money from the mob in the book, he breaks the firm and leaves with his integrity and ethics intact (but without much in the way of financial gain) in the film.
- Affably Evil: The entire firm throughout most of the film, and especially Avery Tolar.
- Alliterative Name: Mitch McDeere.
- Amoral Attorney: Every lawyer at Bendini, Lambert & Locke. It's stated by Tarrance that the firm has just enough legit clients (30%) to make it look like an upstanding law firm.
- Bald of Evil: Wayne Tarrance, arguably. He's an FBI Agent, but he's such an utter asshole (his "I could kick your teeth down your throat and yank 'em out your asshole, and I'm not even violating your civil rights!" rant is a perfect example of a Rabid Cop at work) willing to force Mitch into a position where he will be inevitably killed in order to get evidence on the firm's (and hopefully its unlawful clients') actions that "Well-Intentioned Extremist" doesn't really fits.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: Cruise and Tripplehorn are high school sweethearts and generally moral and righteous people. For every other character, the older (and more unattractive) they are, the greater the chance they're corrupt.
- Better to Die than Be Killed: Avery Tolar takes this way out when he realises that Mitch has betrayed the Firm and their clients will in all likelihood be coming for him.
- Book-Ends: The film starts with Mitch and Abigail arriving at their new house in Memphis, and leaving the house (in the same car) at the end of the film when they decide to move to Boston.
- Ceiling Cling: Mitch uses this (hanging onto a pole running across a ceiling) when he's cornered by Devasher and the Nordic Man in the abandoned building.
- Chekhov's Skill: When Avery Tolar first meets Mitch near the beginning, he makes it very clear that all lawyers should keep a careful eye on what they bill a client, and tells Mitch to remember it well. It comes back at the end of the film, as this is what finally results in the firm's downfall.
- Cigarette of Anxiety: Tammy Hemphill smokes in almost all of her scenes.
- Elvis Impersonator: Tammy's truck driver ex-husband, who (in the book) had changed his name to Elvis Aaron Hemphill and moved his family to Memphis shortly after the real Elvis' death.
- Every Man Has His Price: Tarrance tells Mitch about the firm's modus operandi: they "buy" the lawyer's loyalty with money, job security and support for private schooling, while gradually easing the lawyer into shadier activities. If the lawyer refuses to cooperate, the firm can threaten to bankrupt him, and if he persists, they kill him.
- Excuse Me, Coming Through!: When Mitch escapes the assassins trying to kill him, he runs down the "up" escalator in a public square, prompting this statement.
- Faux Affably Evil: Both angels and demons, here. The firm is full of affable guys who have no problem blackmailing or killing Mitch and Wayne Tarrance is only affable until Mitch refuses to follow his request without anything in exchange (not even the promise of protection) and then cuts loose with a perfect example of a Rabid Cop's rant:
- Agent Wayne Tarrance: Who gives a fuck? I'm a federal agent! You know what that means, you lowlife motherfucker? It means you've got no rights, your life is mine! I could kick your teeth down your throat and yank 'em out your asshole, and I'm not even violating your civil rights!
- Groin Attack: Mitch may or may not have been kicking Devasher in the family jewels once he had him on the ground (but due to the angle it's hard to tell).
- Hot Teacher: Abby as she's played by Jeanne Triplehorn.
- Intimidating Revenue Service: Mitch decided to pursue a career in law when tax agents shut down the pizza parlor he worked at for his first job; in his eyes, that proved that either you were someone who used the law to your ends, or you were someone the law was used on.Mitch: I was a delivery boy for a pizza parlour. One day the owner got a notice from the IRS. He was an immigrant. He didn't know much English, even less about withholding tax. He went bankrupt, lost his store. That was the first time I thought about being a lawyer.
Avery: In other words you're an idealist.
Mitch: I don't know any tax lawyer who's an idealist. When he lost his store I lost my job. It scared me.
Avery: Being out of work?
Mitch: No. What the government can do... to anybody.
- Ivy League for Everyone: Played with. Mitch is a Harvard Law grad, and knows how exclusive and in-demand his education was, while people joke about his education (and the fact that he got absurdly high bar exam scores) throughout the film.
- Jerk Ass: FBI Agent Wayne Tarrance is cordial to a point with Mitch... until Mitch decides he doesn't want to play ball with the FBI if he's going to be disbarred. Tarrance switches to a arrogant jerk who boldly tries to intimidate him and his wife.
- Justice by Other Legal Means: Mitch successfully ensnares the firm by using lawyer-client privilege to reach an agreement with the Moralto mob while proving every legal partner was guilty of overbilling their clients, thus allowing him to keep his status as a lawyer.Mitch: It's not sexy, but it's got teeth! Ten thousand dollars and five years in prison. That's ten and five for each act. Have you really looked at that? You've got every partner in the firm on overbilling. There's two hundred-fifty acts of documented mail fraud there. That's racketeering! That's minimum: 1250 years in prison and half a million dollars in fines. That's more than you had on Capone.
- Loophole Abuse: Exhibited by the firm Mitch works for. As an example, they have connections with The Mafia and other unlawful groups, but as long as they maintain a certain percentage of innocent clients, they are still technically respectable enough to avoid an actual investigation (which is where Tarrance's strong-arming of Mitch comes in — he wants him to become The Mole so he will give the feds evidence under the table).
- Murder by Mistake: Devasher kills the Nordic Man (who picked up Mitch's briefcase while the lawyer was hiding, and stood up to face a door) by accident after thinking that the silhouette behind the door was Mitch.
- Named In The Adaptation: Inverted with the Nordic Man, whose real name was Aaron Rimmer in the novel.
- Nebulous Criminal Conspiracy: The firm is a front for the mob.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Throughout the film, everyone jokes to Mitch about his absurdly high bar exam score. This comes back to bite them in the ass when they inadvertantly give Mitch the idea he needs to take down the firm.
- No Escape but Down: Mitch has nowhere to go when he attempts to flee the firm's offices, so he breaks a window and leaps several stories down onto a flatbed truck filled with bales of wool.
- Oh, Crap!: Tarrance once he realizes that Mitch taped their conversation, in which he overexerted his authority and threatened to destroy Mitch.
- Pair the Spares: Mitch's brother and Lomax's secretary.
- Peer Pressure Makes You Evil: Averted. Mitch is completely oblivious to the backroom dealings of the law firm until an FBI agent basically smacks him in the face with the evidence that he's working for very corrupt people.
- Pretty in Mink: Abby gets a fox coat for Christmas when Mitch first joins the firm.
- Punctuated Pounding: After Mitch dropkicks Devasher when hanging from the ceiling, he repeatedly beats the bigger man with his briefcase and kicks him, while yelling "YOU SICK! SON OF A! BITCH!"
- Rabid Cop: FBI Agent Wayne Tarrance tries to be this, once the affable act only makes Mitch dig his feet in and refuse to become his mole within the firm. It bites him in the ass: Mitch was wearing a Hidden Wire at that moment. He still pretends to relent and attempts to use Mitch's brother as leverage to strong-arm him in the third act, but much to his misfortune Mitch had a plan in place.Tarrance: How about you get down on your knees and kiss my ass for not indicting you as a co-conspirator right now, you chickenshit little Harvard cocksucker?McDeere: I haven't done anything, and you know it!Tarrance: Who gives a fuck? I'm a federal agent! You know what that means, you lowlife motherfucker? It means you've got no rights, your life is mine! I could kick your teeth down your throat and yank 'em out your asshole, and I'm not even violating your civil rights!
- Resignations Not Accepted: Up until Mitch escapes, the firm murdered every associate who either tried to leave or tried to alert the authorities as to what was going on.
- Rewrite: In the movie, Mitch and Abby get to drive away from the firm (and Memphis) without exposing the firm's ties to organized crime. In the novel, after Mitch does expose the firm's ties to the mob, they get to spend their lives in exile sailing a yacht around the Caribbean.
- Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Gene Hackman wasn't in any of the promotional materials. In fact audiences were shocked when he showed up.
- Sir Swears-a-Lot: Tarrance.Tarrance: How about you get down on your knees and kiss my ass for not indicting you as a co-conspirator right now, you chickenshit little Harvard cocksucker?McDeere: I haven't done anything, and you know it!Tarrance: Who gives a fuck? I'm a federal agent! You know what that means, you lowlife motherfucker? It means you've got no rights, your life is mine! I could kick your teeth down your throat and yank 'em out your asshole, and I'm not even violating your civil rights!
- Swiss Bank Account: Mitch orders Tarrance to provide him with $1.5 million deposited in an offshore bank account in exchange for collaborating with the FBI (prompting the reaction seen in the Sir Swears-a-Lot example).
- To Be Lawful or Good: The main conflict Mitch faces in the last half of the film - if he takes down the firm, he loses his licence to practice law. Mitch Takes a Third Option, and drives a wedge between the firm and the mob to get out unscathed and protect his career.
- To anyone who understands Attorney Client Privilege, this is a plot hole. The privilege is void in cases where the attorney and client are engaged in a criminal conspiracy.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: Mitch and Tammy.
- Villainous Breakdown: Wayne Tarrance got one when Mitch's brother escapes.Tarrance: And get me a map of Louisiana.Tarrance: GET ME A MAP OF LOUISIANA!
- Xanatos Gambit: Mitch pulls off a beautiful one by the film's climax, by giving the FBI enough evidence to bury the firm in thousands of years of incarceration and millions in fines, while convincing the Moraltos that he cannot disclose any information he has while he is alive, and implies that his death would lead to their own destruction with full disclosure of everything to the FBI.
- Your Cheating Heart: Mitch has a one-night stand with a young woman while on vacation, which prompts the firm (who orchestrated the whole setup in the first place) to use it as leverage to keep it quiet. Unlike the novel, however, Mitch immediately tells his wife what happened, and they resolve to work through their personal issues later.