Josh Lucas takes the role of Mitch McDeere and gives John Grisham’s young lawyer the heart the character deserved from the beginning; bringing the fictional persona from the book to life. With more persuasion and gut than the hollow milktoast that Tom Cruise embodied, Lucas creates a man well, sort of like Tom’s Ethan Hunt in the Mission Impossible series. And don’t ignore the role reversal here, Tom Cruise finding renewed stardom and a huge windfall with the M.I. series hitting paydirt – a 60’s TV series turning into an iconic big screen franchise, while here we have a classic 90’s movie turning into a promising 2012 television series.
The two hour pilot has its moments though it is difficult to embrace new faces taking the parts once played by Hollywood legends. The pacing is fine and the first installment has elements that should keep the audience that tuned in when the show launched, on Elvis Presley’s birthday… and build upon it.
Cruise was 31 years old when the two and a half hour Sydney Pollock film hit the theaters in 1993 and on a smaller screen the 40 year old Josh Lucas brings the role ten years forward into time (though it is, of course, 19 years since the movie was released). He wears the suit and tie very well, indeed, it’s a role that was made for him. In an interview on YouTube (the current venue where television and film companies promote their wares) Lucas says the question most asked author John Grisham since the publication of the book and its subsequent film release is “Whatever happened to Mitch McDeere?”
It’s not a question that crossed this critic’s mind, perhaps because the 1993 story came to such an abrupt stop. The ending in the novel had a more plausible outcome than the wimpy conlusion where Cruise and Jeannie Tripllehorn (as Abby McDeere) run off to Boston to start a new life after Hal Holbrook, Wilford Brimley and Gene Hackman’s totally disoriented character – Avery Tolar – and their Firm – threatened, harassed and tortured the once happy couple, upending their lives with images of wiretaps, dead attorneys and heartless thugs. People with that kind of firepower are “particularly hard for a trusting young wife to forgive and impossible to forget!”… to quote Wilford Brimley from the original picture. Paul Sorvino as Tommie Morolto also chimed in with a great line back in the day: I tell you Joey (the late Joe Viterelli from Analyze This), every fucking lawyer on the face of the earth oughta be killed.”
Part Law and Order mixed with The Fugitive (60’s TV show or the Harrison Ford film, take your pick), McDeere juggles being a good attorney (including public defender) as well as always looking over his shoulder and being prepared to gather the family together and go back on the run. There’s a bit of belief suspension necessary…and the fact that the firm (“firm” as in solid, not law office) identities created by Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, Gary Busey – as well as Sydney Pollack’s considerable skills – are big shoes to fill. Callum Keith Rennie, veteran of Shattered, 24 and a multitude of other television programs, is ok as Ray McDeere but, what, David Strathairn couldn’t be pulled away from the TV series Alphas and his other films to play Ray? Ok, the fact that Strathairn turns 63 this January 26 does take him out of the time tunnel a bit… nothing that a little make-up can’t work wonders with. For me, not having any of the actors from the film return to this fully-hyped tv show (22 episodes are scheduled or have been generated) is a disconnect as glaring as 2008’s TERMINATOR: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. 31 episodes and one cancellation later does anyone remember Lena Headey as Sarah Connor or Thomas Dekker as John Connor? At least Summer Glau, Terminatrix Cameron Phillips, got to do a similar part as “Orwell” in the short-lived Batman take-off entitled. The Cape…
What does seem sure is that Josh Lucas as McDeere is going to fare better than David Lyons did after Lyons did a decent job in that fun-but-limited Batman-ish Sunday night show: The Cape. Lyons has hardly appeared in anything significant since the cancellation of The Cape while The Firm has Lucas headed for stardom. (Lyons would actually do well if given a chance for a role in this new series…so would Summer Glau).
Sure, Tom Cruise has that intangible called box office draw…and it’s hard to understand that it was necessary for The Firm with the stellar cast and superb director to need his name long ago and far away… Lucas was pretty available back in the day, a twenty-something Mitch McDeere in the decade before this actor would play Hulk-hunter Talbot in Eric Bana’s 2003 Hulk (with roles also in American Psycho and Session 9)…now that would have been an interesting spin. A big name cast with a virtual unknown as the star. But what do I know, the original movie made over 270 million dollars worldwide, quite a bit of cash in 1993 on a budget of approximately 42 million.
Will Law & Order meets the Fugitive work in 2012? My bet is that it will…people want more than reality TV … just be prepared to give the writers lots of artistic license.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He was a film critic for Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com and produces and hosts Visual Radio. Visual Radio is a fifteen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed John Lennon’s Uncle Charlie, Margaret Cho, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere, Marty Balin, Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.