Mitch McDeere (Tom Cruise) is a young man from an impoverished background, but with a promising future in law. About to graduate from Harvard Law School near the top of his class, he receives a generous job offer from Bendini, Lambert & Locke, a small, boutique firm in Memphis specializing in accounting and tax law. He and his wife, Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn), move to Memphis and Mitch sets to work studying to pass the Tennessee bar exam. Avery Tolar (Gene Hackman), one of the firm's senior partners, becomes his mentor and begins introducing Mitch to BL&L's professional culture, which demands complete loyalty, strict confidentiality, and a willingness to charge exceptional fees for their services. Seduced by the money and perks showered on him, including a house and car, he is at first totally oblivious of the more sinister side of his new employer, although Abby has her suspicions.
Mitch passes the bar exam and begins working long hours that put a strain on his marriage. Working closely with Avery, Mitch learns that most of the Firm's work involves helping wealthy clients hide large amounts of money in off-shore shell corporations and other dubious tax-avoidance schemes. While on a trip to the Cayman Islands on behalf of a client, Mitch is seduced by a local woman and cheats on Abby. Actually this encounter is a photographed set-up made for the firm's sinister security chief, Bill DeVasher (Wilford Brimley), who later uses Mitch's beach tryst with that woman as blackmail to keep him quiet about such tax evasions and whatever illegal financial transactions.
Mitch realizes he is now trapped, but after two associates of the firm die under mysterious circumstances, he is approached by FBI agents who inform him that while some of BL&L's business is legitimate, their biggest client is the Morolto Mafia family from Chicago. The firm's partners, as well as most of the associates, are all complicit in a massive tax fraud and money laundering scheme. The two associates who died learned about the firm's dark side, and were killed to keep them from talking. They warn Mitch that his house, car, and office have probably all been bugged. The FBI pressures Mitch to provide the Bureau with evidence they can use to go after the Moroltos and bring down BL&L. Mitch knows he faces a stark choice. If he works with the FBI, he believes that even if he stays alive, he will have to disclose information about the firm's legitimate clients—thus breaking the attorney–client privilege and risking disbarment. However, the FBI warns him that if he stays with the firm, he will almost certainly go to jail when the FBI takes down both the firm and the Moroltos. Either way, his life as he knows it is over, and he agrees to cooperate with the FBI in return for $1.5 million and the release of his imprisoned brother Ray in Arkansas.
Desperate to find a way out, Mitch inadvertently stumbles on a solution when one of his clients reveals that he was billed for extra five hours fees, for the Firm's money laundering services for the Moroltos. However, mailing these illegal bills to their clients is considered as mail fraud, and it exposes the Firm to RICO charges. Mitch begins secretly copying the Firm's billing records. However, he is unmasked when a prison guard on the Moroltos' payroll alerts DeVasher. Evading DeVasher and his thugs, he finds the Morolto brothers and, offering himself as a loyal attorney looking out for his clients' best interests, leads them to believe that his contact with the FBI and files copying were merely an attempt to expose and eliminate such illegal overbilling. Mitch asks the Moroltos to turn over their billing invoices in order to help the FBI make their case against the firm. He assures them that as long as he is alive, any other information he knows about their legal affairs is covered under attorney-client privilege and will never be revealed. Convinced thus, the Moroltos agree to guarantee Mitch's safety and let him give the FBI all the evidence they need to destroy the Firm. Since the attorney-client privilege doesn't apply when a lawyer knows about ongoing criminal activity, Mitch is able to keep his status as a lawyer.
The film ends as the McDeeres leave their house in Memphis and return to Boston, driving the same car in which they arrived there.
Gene Hackman's name did not appear on the release poster; due to Tom Cruise's deal with Paramount only his name could appear above the title. Hackman also wanted his name to appear above the credits, but when this was refused he asked for his name to be removed. His name does appear in the end credits. This is also the final film for Steven Hill and John Beal.
Principal photography began on November 9, 1992 and ended on March 20, 1993.
The soundtrack is almost exclusively solo piano by Dave Grusin.
The film accords with the book in most respects, but the ending is significantly different. Mitch does not end up in the Caribbean, as in the book; he and Abby simply get into their car and drive back to Boston, as the ending narration, "Do you think [the car] will make it?...to Boston?..."
A more fundamental difference from the book is the motives and manner in which Mitch solves his predicament. In the book, Mitch acknowledges to himself that he is breaking the attorney-client privilege by copying information and giving it to the FBI. In most US states this privilege only applies to crimes that have already been committed. The privilege does not apply if a lawyer knows that his client either is committing or will commit a crime. However, Mitch must disclose information about his legitimate clients as well. Accepting that he will likely not be allowed to practice law anywhere again, he swindles $10 million from the Firm, along with receiving $1 million of a promised $2 million from the FBI for his cooperation. After an extended manhunt involving the police, the firm's lawyers, and hired thugs from the Morolto family, Mitch escapes with Abby (and his brother Ray) to the Caymans. Before fleeing, he leaves behind detailed records of the firm's illegal activities, as well as a recorded deposition. Mitch's information gives federal prosecutors enough evidence to indict half of the Firm's active lawyers right away, as well as several retired partners. The documents also provide the FBI with circumstantial evidence of the Firm's involvement in money laundering and tax fraud, and thus probable cause for a search warrant for the firm's building and files. This additional evidence is enough to smash both the firm and the Morolto family with a massive RICO indictment.
In the film, apparently in order to preserve the protagonist's personal integrity, Mitch exposes a systematic overbilling scheme by the firm, thus driving a wedge between the Moroltos (who in essence become complicit with Mitch) and their law firm (in the book, overbilling only received a brief mention). He receives a smaller amount of money from the FBI, which he gives to Ray, allowing him to disappear. Rather than capitalizing on his circumstances by stealing money from the Firm, as in the book, the movie's McDeere ends up battered and bruised, but with his integrity and professional ethics intact. Mitch also makes the FBI have to work in order to bring down the firm by having to argue that each instance of excessive billing is a federal offense (by virtue of the excessive bills being sent through the mail). The volume and frequency meets the criteria for RICO, thereby enabling the FBI to effectively put the Firm out of business by seizing its property and equipment and freezing its bank accounts. From here the Moroltos would then need to find another law firm willing to take them on as clients, and if they couldn't, charges for non-lodgment of tax returns could be brought. Since Mitch is exposing only illegal activity, he is able to retain his law license.
Instead of a BMW, Mitch gets a Mercedes-Benz for joining the firm.
Avery Tolar was originally Avery Tolleson; the latest version of the novel uses the film's surname. Tolar is portrayed as a sort of reluctant villain in the film, while in the novel he has no such moral conflicts.
The surname of the second man killed on Grand Cayman is Joe Hodges, instead of Hodge as in the novel.
Mitch's confession to Abby about his sexual infidelity was also unique to the film. In the novel, McDeere never tells Abby about his infidelity. In the book, Abby's not knowing about Mitch's infidelity is a major "suspense" piece. Mitch comes home one evening and finds an envelope addressed to Abby, that has "Photos – Do Not Bend" written on it. The photos were surreptitiously given to DeVasher by Art Germain. Mitch thinks it is the pictures he was shown of his infidelity overseas. Abby is in the bedroom when he sees the open package. He enters the bedroom and learns that Abby opened the package, but it was empty. Mitch realizes DeVasher is toying with him, and this incident in the book causes Mitch to cooperate with the FBI. In the film, Mitch's confession prompts Abby to seriously consider leaving him, but she ultimately helps him bring down the firm.
Also, in the book, Eddie's old secretary, Tammy, seduces and drugs Avery. In the movie, however, it is Abby who seduces Avery. This also changes the character development because in the movie Abby is portrayed as risking herself for Mitch. In the book, Abby is simply an accomplice to Tammy.Memphis, Tennessee
Elmwood Cemetery – funeral scene
Owen Brennan's – Lunch scene in cocktail/bar area. Owen Brennan's commemorated the filming by placing plaques on the two cocktail chairs where Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman sat.
Peabody Hotel – BBQ roof scene overlooking Mississippi River Bridge and downtown Memphis.
Beale Street – Scene where Mitch and Abby see young tumblers as street performers
Lausanne Collegiate School – Playground scene and others.
Front Street Deli – Meeting at diner.
Memphis Suspension Railway
Blues City Cafe – FBI first meeting with Mitch.
Scates Hall, University of Memphis – legal deliberations
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
The Marion Hotel – Apartment room on top floor for a scene.
Critical reaction to The Firm has been mostly positive, with the film earning a 75% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
Roger Ebert gave The Firm three stars out of four, remarking: "The movie is virtually an anthology of good small character performances. [...] The large gallery of characters makes The Firm into a convincing canvas [... but] with a screenplay that developed the story more clearly, this might have been a superior movie, instead of just a good one with some fine performances."
The film earned some negative reviews as well, notably from James Berardinelli, who said that "[v]ery little of what made the written version so enjoyable has been successfully translated to the screen, and what we're left with instead is an overly-long [and] pedantic thriller." Grisham enjoyed the film, remarking: "I thought [Tom Cruise] did a good job. He played the innocent young associate very well."
The film was released while Grisham was at the height of his popularity. That week, Grisham and Michael Crichton evenly divided the top six paperback spots on The New York Times Best Seller list. It opened on June 30, 1993 in 2,393 theatres, and landed at #1 at the box office, grossing $25.4 million over the 4th of July weekend. It remained in the #1 spot at the box office for 3 weeks. After 12 weeks in theatres, the film was a huge success, making over $158 million domestically and $111 million internationally ($270 million worldwide). Additionally, it was the largest grossing R-rated movie of 1993 and of any film based on a Grisham novel.
The film earned two Academy Award nominations including Best Supporting Actress for Holly Hunter (losing to Anna Paquin for The Piano, though she did win an Oscar at that year's ceremony for Best Actress in the same film as Paquin) and Best Original Score for Dave Grusin (losing to John Williams for Schindler's List).
The Firm was released on home video in December of 1993, and the cassettes were colored blue. The DVD was released on May 23, 2000. The special features include only the teaser and theatrical trailers. The Blu Ray will be released for the first time on September 12, 2017.
In April 2011 Entertainment One announced that a sequel to The Firm was being produced with Sony Pictures Television and Paramount Pictures. The series picked up the story of Mitch and his family ten years after the events of the novel and film. The first season was 22 episodes long and began production in Canada in July 2011. In May 2011, NBC confirmed that they had acquired the U.S. broadcast rights to the show and that they planned to début it in January 2012. The show was cancelled after its first season.