Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, John Mahoney, Dylan McDermott, Rene Russo

Preposterous but still thoroughly involving, this tense, kinetic, ingenious thriller is the thinking fan's action movie.

Eastwood is a veteran Secret Service agent who describes himself as "a borderline burnout with little in the way of social skills." He is laboring under the guilt of having worked the Dallas presidential motorcade on Nov. 22, 1963, and feeling he might have or should have saved John F. Kennedy.

His life is given new meaning, ironically, by the threats of a present-day assassin, Malkovich, who is determined to kill a current, anonymous President. The cleverest part of Jeff Maguire's screenplay is maintaining mystery over Malkovich's identity and motives until midway through the film.

Don't worry, though. This isn't another knuckle-gnawing, Oliver Stoned bit of revisionist history. While Eastwood does sneer at Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists as "idiots on bar stools," Malkovich is connected to Kennedy only by a mundane kind of nostalgia.

The inexpressive Russo is one of Eastwood's fellow agents; their romantic interludes are nonetheless implausible in spite of being inevitable in a film where Russo is the token female star.

McDermott is Eastwood's nervous partner, and the professionally paternal Mahoney is an old Eastwood pal who is now head of the Secret Service.

As he ages, Eastwood, like John Wayne, is doing less fistfighting and shoot-outing, which gives his acting ability more chance to surface. He is effectively anguished in this film, though his growly toughness still comes through. This makes a strong contrast with Malkovich, who always seems effete even when he's playing a manic killer. There is much ponderous palaver about the whole thing being a game and about the supposed similarities between Eastwood and Malkovich.

The agents' sleuthing techniques, including a fascinating computer projection of Malkovich's appearance in various disguises, complement the interim action scenes, and German director Wolfgang Petersen stages the final confrontation, at a fund-raising dinner in a Los Angeles hotel, with great resourcefulness. (R)

Tom Cruise, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Gene Hackman, Ed Harris

Those expecting a fast-paced thriller will be disappointed. Those expecting a faithful adaptation of John Grisham's crackling best-seller will be disappointed. Only those with infinite patience, forgiving hearts and a spare 2½ hours will leave the theater feeling satisfied.

The film starts with an interesting idea: When, like Cruise, you're near the top of your class at Harvard Law School, even' hotshot firm in the country wants you. They offer generous salaries, former governors as colleagues and corporate boxes at basketball games. Hal Holbrook, the patriarchal head of a small firm in Memphis, offers more: a BIG salary (20 percent higher than your next-best offer), a Mercedes, a house and repayment of your school loans. Cruise, who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks—his mother lives in a trailer, his brother (the fine David Strathairn) is in prison on a felony conviction—is dazzled, his wife (Tripplehorn) less so. She thinks maybe it's all just too good to be true.

It's all true and it isn't good: The firm's chief activity is doing the business and bidding of the Mob; the firm's chief way of dealing with insubordination is murder. The FBI wants to recruit Cruise to get the goods on his colleagues. The partners want to keep Cruise in line—they have bugged his house and car, set him up with a prostitute (Karina Lombard; see story, page 47) and blackmailed him. The Firm, after a firecracker opening, goes downhill quickly, partly because of too many attenuated car and foot chases, partly due to the difficulty in imagining Cruise as an attorney. The supporting cast—Harris as a gonzo G-man, Holly Hunter as a tart-tongued secretary and Hackman as a dissipated lawyer—is outstanding. But their prodigiousness serves only to underscore the too-boyish Cruise's limitations—notably, his utter inability to convey more than one emotion at a time. (R)

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Joanne Kaufman.