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the firm


The Firm is a flick I'm surprised I haven't written about before. I've watched it at least 4 or 5 times.

I honestly don't remember where I saw this movie first, but I can tell you it wasn't in the theater. It was either on TV or something I saw in the movie rental store that looked interesting. I did know this movie was a lawyer flick and there are times I like those kind of films because they have a very traditional movie-making style to them. Usually they have zero special effects, a very earthy soundtrack (as this one does, no question), and wholly rely on the story itself to push the movie along. In other words, no magical superpower whiz-bang thing saves the day at the end of the third act. Plot points must be established for the movie to hold together else it will completely fall apart and quickly. Fortunately the story here is decent enough to keep you interested.

The Firm is a lawyer movie released June 1993, and like all lawyer movies, the mob is involved albeit only very briefly. Think of it as a 2½-hour long episode of Law & Order.

Cruise in his typical style overacts like crazy in this movie and has basically zero chemistry with Jeanne Tripplehorn who played his wife. Jeanne, by the way, is unbelievably hot, or at least she was in this movie - but her and Cruise just aren't believable as an on-screen married couple. Just doesn't work. However every other actor, which included Ed Harris, David Strathairn, Gary Busey, Wilford Brimley and Gene Hackman to name a few - did awesome. They pick up the slack where Cruise and Tripplehorn couldn't cut the mustard.

A note about Brimley: He's a bad guy in this movie, and wow did he pull it off. You totally believe the character he plays is an evil dude.

What totally destroys this movie is the fact the story hinges upon technology limitations of the day in several places, but the one that will make you laugh out loud is this:

There's a point when a fax is sent to Bad-Guy-Brimley's headquarters containing really important information. This fax prints out on thermal paper (the "curly" kind, remember that?). It just so happens that it's the last piece of paper in the machine. It falls out (where's the paper tray?), curls up and rolls under the stand the machine is on.


Later on, while Bad-Guy-Brimley is in Bad-Guy-Headquarters, he notices the fax machine is beeping loudly and literally says:

What the hell's the matter with you guys? This thing's out of paper!


Then he notices the rolled-up fax under the machine. Now the story can continue.


Yes, this really happens, and bear in mind this is supposed to be a really tense scene in the movie - but today it's just laughable at best.

This really got my curiosity going because I was certain plain-paper faxing existed at the time. Turns out it did. Canon introduced the first plain-paper facsimile machine in 1987 - but this movie is telling me that a multi-million-dollar law firm in the early 1990s couldn't afford one? I don't think so.

In other words, a fax machine's thermal paper idiosyncrasies is an actual plot device in The Firm. Very cheesy.

There are also several instances in this movie where paper and faxing play really important moments in moving the story along.

Given that in the early 1990s the fastest way to send a photo across a great distance was by fax and that there was no other way to do it faster, the machines do get a fair amount of screen time:


What's even crazier is that in the above scene, that's a fax sent from Memphis, Tennessee to the Cayman Islands. In the early 1990s that probably would have cost close to 10 dollars in long-distance fees just to send that one fax. It was probably sent at 9600bps or lower. Today the same thing could be done via email or by just snapping a full-color high-resolution photo on a phone, and have it be there in seconds.

With today's modern tech - even the cheap stuff - there's no way the story being told in The Firm would hold up at all. That thermal paper goof? Never would have happened in today's world as it would have been nothing more than a text message. The photo? Would have been sent by email or phone as I said above.

Was there text messaging in the early 1990s? Yes, but no matter how much cash you had, you couldn't get it. The first-ever SMS message was sent in the UK in 1992 and the first commercial SMS in Sweden in 1993. It wasn't until late 90s where people here in the US were using it regularly, so it was not an option at the time The Firm was made. Yes, you do see cell phones being used in the movie, but only for voice because that's all that was available at the time.

I still like The Firm as it is a good movie. From box office sales worldwide, it made a ton of money. But when watching it now, I can't help but chuckle whenever I see the walrus complaining about his fax machine being out of paper.

Published 2011 Jun 26

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