Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 298
Grisham shifts narrative focus back-and-forth between Mitch and the firm. While not completely giving away the firm's background, Grisham lets the reader know more than Mitch knows. Thus the reader does not so much figure out the mystery as Mitch does, but instead watches Mitch catch up. At the midway point, in a scene that uses as a striking backdrop the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, the FBI Director explains to Mitch (and to readers) the origins of the firm. Thereafter, Grisham continues to shuttle scenes between the hero and the villains, letting readers experience how the threat against Mitch mounts within the firm. The chief result of this dual tracking of scenes is the build-up of suspense: How will Mitch learn what the firm really is? Then, how will Mitch escape what the firm plans for him? The technique establishes the difference between a mystery and a thriller. In the former, the hero would grow suspicious, gradually unravel the secrets of the firm, and then expose them at the novel's climax. In contrast, in the thriller, what we have here, the hero may also detect the answer to a mystery, but mostly he must evade grave danger.
Grisham retains the wiseacre narrative style evident in the earlier novel A Time to Kill. He describes the people of Grand Cayman as "twenty percent white, twenty percent black, and the other sixty percent wasn't sure and didn't care." An FBI agent reads a warrant that automatically includes mail fraud and muses that he "was not sure where the mail fraud fit, but he worked for the FBI and had never seen a case that did not include mail fraud." This deadpan humor leavens what could be a story only about suspense. Grisham gives his readers both chills and grins.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 113
Doubleday's design for the novel's dust jacket, a man in a suit suspended by guide-wires against a marblelike background, recalls the symbol of the hand on the puppet strings used for the book covers and film posters for Mario Puzo's The Godfather (1969). Yet while Puzo crafts an inside narrative of the Mafia, Grisham leaves readers largely on the outside, only seeing the mob members through the tangential figures of DeVasher and others in the firm. The best precedents and comparisons for The Firm are other examples of the thriller genre — such as books by Stuart Woods or Ken Follett or even Tom Clancy — to evaluate how Grisham embraces yet stretches the generic limitations.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 321
Paramount's 1993 film version of The Firm, directed by Sydney Pollock and scripted by David Rabe, Robert Towne, and David Rayfiel, met with considerable box office success. Among the film's key strengths are the ways the supporting players flesh out their characters. Especially the women, Abby portrayed by Jeanne Tripplehorn and Tammy by Holly Hunter, gain depth and have meatier scenes than the portraits of them that appear in the novel. Hunter earned an Academy Award nomination for her work. Gene Hack-man adds strength and presence to his portrayal of Avery Tolar, a character who could have been played as a forgettable weakling. And Wilford Brimley, who appeared in his earlier work as a benign grandfather-type, provides considerable menace by underplaying DeVasher.
The film's deviations from the book, however, disturbed Grisham's most loyal fans. Typical of Hollywood treatment, the movie mutes the troubling and darker aspects of the book. As played by Tom Cruise, Mitch retains a sense of ethics and ultimately rejects the temptation of money. In the film adaptation, Mitch resolves the dilemma not by fleeing to the islands with the firm's money, but by devising a method to snare the firm that removes the Mafia's threat against him and Abby. The script whitewashes Mitch by removing his acquisitiveness, essentially watering down the book's edge. The film also ignores the scene in the book in which Ray must kill someone to effect their escape. The film also alters the portrayal of FBI agent Wayne Tarranee, played by Ed Harris, to make the FBI seem as threatening and as malevolent as the firm. In the novel, Tarrance is cool and insistent, whereas in the film he often becomes histrionic. Many fans of the novel further complained that the movie removed an important icon: Mitch's car in the film is not a BMW.
D. W. Moffett reads the abridged Bantam audio version, and George Guidall reads the complete text for Recorded Books.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 347
Grisham, John. “The Rise of the Legal Thriller: Why Lawyers Are Throwing the Books at Us.” The New York Times Book Review 97 (October 18, 1992): 33. Grisham analyzes the rise of the “lawyer novel,” a phenomenon to which he has contributed as much as any author. He discusses the abiding fascination with the law of the reading public and how lawyers have turned to fiction in order to satisfy this interest. In addition to his own work, he considers that of other lawyers turned writers and their varying approaches.
Klinkenborg, Verlyn. “Law’s Labors Lost.” New Republic 210 (March 14, 1994): 32-38. Klinkenborg reviews five books that deal with legal themes. In the latter part of the essay, Klinkenborg focuses on The Firm, citing it as a “notorious” example of portraying the culture of lawyers as opposed to the “nature of the law.”
Landner, M. “An Overnight Success—After Six Years.” Business Week (April 19, 1992): 52. That a magazine such as Business Week, aimed at the commercial community, should include an article on an adventure novelist indicates clearly the extent to which Grisham has been a financial success and how that success has drawn the attention of people other than his readers. Landner traces Grisham’s remarkable career as a writer who struggled for years to write a successful book.
Matthews, Thomas. “Book ’em.” Newsweek 121 (March 15, 1993): 78-81. A review of Grisham’s fourth novel. The Client (1993), which, like the two before it, The Firm and The Pelican Brief, immediately appeared on best-seller lists. Matthews considers this work and those that preceded it in relation to the genre of the “lawyer novel.” He also analyzes the phenomenal success that made Grisham one of the most widely read American authors in the space of only three years.
Pringle, Mary Beth. John Grisham: A Critical Companion. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1997. Pringle explains the genre of the legal thriller, tracing its evolution from the thriller tradition and detective fiction, as well as the romance, gothic, and crime novels. Following a biographical chapter on Grisham, she devotes a chapter to each of his novels, including a penetrating study on The Firm.