Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Holly Hunter in The Firm

Holly Hunter received her second/third Oscar nomination (she was double nommed in 1993 for this film and her lead role in The Piano), and her first in the Supporting Actress category for her performance as Tammy Hemphill in Sydney Pollack's The Firm. The film itself is bloated at two and a half hours long, though I still found myself interested and entertained thanks to the entire cast giving some good performances that kept the film afloat despite its excessive length. In the film, Mitch McDeere (Tom Cruise) is a promising young lawyer who joins a small firm in Memphis but soon uncovers a huge amount of corruption and dirty dealings within his firm and his attempts to safely exit the firm. Hunter plays the secretary of a Private Investigator (Gary Busey) who is murdered after McDeere hires him to look into the firm's dealings.

Despite her limited role, there is no doubt that Hunter's performance is one of the standouts of the cast, which on its own does a fair job (the cast includes a multitude of Oscar nominees, including Cruise, Busey, Gene Hackman, Hal Holbrook, David Straitharn, and Ed Harris). She doesn't come into the film into about 50 minutes in and she immediately appears to be a stereotype, in this case the sultry and mildly trashy secretary. She has the push up bra going to full effect with the blonde hair and the seductive glances. Her scenes with Gary Busey exude a little bit of chemistry, but what really ends up dooming her performance is the fact that they don't have enough scenes together. When he eventually gets killed (sorry for spoilers, but it's really not that big of one), we are supposed to believe that she cared for him so much that she would go to all these extremes with Mitch, but we never really see enough to be convinced of this ourselves.

Still, the scene right after his death still manages to give Hunter a chance to shine, and is the scene that I assume essentially got her this nomination. In this scene, she does an amazing job at giving us a woman scared out of her mind, the shock of the death of someone she loved still fresh in her thoughts. She is completely convincing with her twitchy, dejected mannerisms, as Tammy is still trying to process what happened. Everything just managed to come together in this scene, the wig change and the huge pink nails/claws combined with the timid voice used really does make you feel for her character. The scene is masterfully handled, and Hunter shows signs of greatness....but then that's basically it.

The rest of the film, Hunter slides into something of a sidekick type of role. You see her performing some covert tasks and plotting with Cruise's character in an attempt to get justice for the man she 'loved'. She does alright with this, but she isn't quite given anything that warrants anything more than mild admiration. She serves her purpose perfectly, giving sly looks and rushed urgency in movement that she is needed, but never quite gets a scene again to show off her character or develop her further. Even at the end of the film, we don't get a real payoff with her purpose in the film. What Pollack eventually does with her character is just as ridiculous as the 'love' we are supposed to believe she had with Busey's character.

Overall, she gives a similar performance in terms of overall quality as Ryder's in The Age of Innocence, she does everything is asked of her but isn't given a chance to take it past that point. That being said, her one amazing scene helps to make her memorable, and her overall charm in the film is infectious. 2.5/5 Thelmas.

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