Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tom Cruise, Before All the Crazy

I watched 232 movies in the 365 Days of 2010. Here is the 227th movie I watched. It was a doozy:

The Firm 
1993. 154 min. USA. Directed by Sydney Pollack. Watchdate: 12/19/2010

Being home over the Holidays meant watching a lot of TV because TV still exists there unlike in Berkeley where it has been subsumed into the cauldron of the Internet. The Firm was on HBO or somesuch channel, and I decided not to turn it off. I'm happy I didn't because boy, it is something else, I'll tell you. It's the sort of rumbling potboiler that almost seems like a parody of itself because it relies so much on convention while at the same time establishing conventions that have since been endlessly copied. It's also the quintessential Tom Cruise vehicle because it's a thriller where Cruise gets to swing between being the good guy and the bad boy as a function of the plot as well as of his own persona. And it's based on a book John Grisham so it has his fingerprints on it as well, particularly his interest in the American South as a setting. Apparently the South is an absolutely ridiculous land peopled by catfish farmers, Elvis impersonators, and half-crazed private investigators. The wild eyed Gary Busey portrays the latter role to great effect:

Aside from Busey, Cruise, Jeanne Tripplehorn as Cruise's wife and the always excellent Holly Hunter as Busey's bereaved squeeze, the entire movie plays like some sort of bizarrely dreamed conspiracy of the gray eminences of Hollywood: Gene Hackman, Hal Holbrook, Steven Hill, and Paul Sorvino. Most frighteningly, the bewhiskered visage of Wilford Brimley emerges to menace our hero in a fashion as flamboyant as can be imagined:

There are also several early versions of roles we all eventually come to know and love. Joe Viterelli shows up as his trademark smirking mafioso:

Likewise, Ed Harris appears for the first time as the paranoid hallucinogenic apparition that he would later reprise in A Beautiful Mind:

Of course in spite of all the danger, Sydney Pollack and Robert Towne have it all figured out for Tom Cruise with a clockwork plot as good as Chinatown's except without all the pathos and psychological complexity. Still, Cruise has ample opportunity to run like a maniac, sweat like a teenager and generally bound around with ingenious precision like a good action star should.

The movie is in many ways a very colorful dress rehearsal for Mission: Impossible which also utilized Robert Towne's writing and a classic 70s director to create a ludicrous exercise in top class Hollywood adventure entertainment. Not only that, but The Firm features a soundtrack that oscillates between bad early 90s pop rock and white bread invocations of Bayou piano jazz (Jelly Roll Morton eat your heart out). Yet although I will jape endlessly about the movie's eccentricities and yes, flaws, like its tendency to sometimes feel like an after school special about "the law" - I still have to admit that I admire it in some way. After all it truly succeeds in being a breathless, diverting meditation on how an individual finds some measure of freedom in a world dominated by the public coercion of a bumbling, overreaching government and the private coercion of corrupt, ruthless business interests. That has to count for something, right? So do yourself a friggin' service and Netflix this shit like now! You shant be disappointed.

PS - They went to great lengths to make David Strathairn look like Tom Cruise's older brother at the end of the movie. This also amused me.