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FILM CLIPS / GRISHAM'S LAW

First, Let's Top-Bill All the Lawyers

August 28, 1994

Granted, critics seem to agree that "The Client" is the best of the adaptations of John Grisham novels to reach the screen (the jury awaits the forthcoming "A Time to Kill," whose rights sold for $6 million). But how much of that has to do with the filmmakers--and how much has to do with the fact that all three entries in the Grisham oeuvre are essentially the same story? There's an old saying that there are really only eight plots in the world. Well, Grisham seemingly has found the one he likes best. Here, as uncovered by the Film Clips staff, are the key elements to making a Grisham book and film fly:

The Hero

The Firm: Mitch (played by Tom Cruise), a bright young man from a poor family, who is embarking on a law career.

The Pelican Brief: Darby (Julia Roberts), a bright young woman from a poor family, who is a law student.

The Client: Mark (Brad Renfro), a bright young man from a poor family, who hires a lawyer.

Hero's Problem

The Firm: He knows something he shouldn't--that the Mafia runs his law firm.

The Pelican Brief: She knows something she shouldn't--that a powerful oil billionaire paid for the killings of two Supreme Court justices.

The Client: He knows something he shouldn't--where a Mafia thug buried a U.S. senator he murdered.

The Villain

The Firm: Corrupt lawyers and vicious hit men.

The Pelican Brief: An oil tycoon, corrupt lawyers and vicious international hit men.

The Client: Vicious hit men.

The Government

The Firm: The FBI wants Mitch to put himself at risk by gathering evidence against his company.

The Pelican Brief: The FBI wants Darby to put herself at risk by turning herself in.

The Client: The U.S. Attorney wants Mark to put himself at risk by testifying against the mob killer.

The Hero Doesn't Because . . .

The Firm: He doesn't believe the FBI will keep its word.

The Pelican Brief: She's afraid the FBI is under the influence of the President's corrupt advisers.

The Client: He doesn't believe the FBI can protect him from the mob.

The Unlikely Allies

The Firm: A private eye, the detective's feisty assistant and Mitch's convict brother.

The Pelican Brief: A Washington Post investigative reporter.

The Client: A novice lawyer who is a recovering alcoholic.

The Hero's Arc

The Firm: From legal eager beaver to cynical attorney.

The Pelican Brief: From scholarly go-getter to non-practicing recluse.

The Client: From carefree youngster to government-protected stool pigeon.

In the End . . .

The Firm: Mitch outsmarts both the Mafia and the FBI.

The Pelican Brief: Darby outsmarts both the billionaire and all the President's men.

The Client: Mark outsmarts both the Mafia and the U.S. Attorney.

But Our Hero . . .

The Firm: is forced to give up his job and start over.

The Pelican Brief: is forced to abandon her law studies and go into hiding.

The Client: is forced to enter the Witness Protection Program and change identities.*

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