FILM / Rushes

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The Independent Culture
LA LAW (1) Q: When is an Oscar- winning star not an Oscar-winning star? A: When he's Gene Hackman and featured in a Tom Cruise film. Even peering with all your might, you won't find Hackman's name on the posters, billboards and ads for The Firm, Sydney Pollack's celluloid version of the John Grisham bestseller, despite the actor's recent Academy award for Unforgiven - not to mention his traditional claim to above- the-title billing and his stepping into the part of lawyer Avery Tolar at the last moment so the project could roll.

Alas, such claims didn't wash with Cruise (recently and hilariously described as 'the Tyrone Power of his generation') or with Paramount, which had already built its marketing strategy around the pixie-sized thespian's giant box-office appeal - and the contract clause which specifies that Cruise be the only actor listed above- the-title.

Informed that there was no way either party was going to accede to equal billing, Hackman elected to be removed from the ad credits, rather than seem to be a mere second-string support. Very wise, given the industry's paranoid sensitivity to appearances. Paramount's claims that Hackman's name isn't on the ads because they didn't want audiences to think the thriller was a buddy-buddy picture are firmly rejected by Hackman's spokesman Dick Guttman. 'This is a town of precedents and if Hackman is so firmly established above the title, why should he be below the title? It was a good decision by him.'

More to the point, Cruise's fee for The Firm is dollars 12m to Hackman's dollars 2m.

LA LAW (2) Lawyers do seem to be the coming thing. Which is surprising given Hollywood's previous toying with the profession. Remember Walter Matthau as Whiplash Willie in Billy Wilder's The Fortune Cookie? Or the foolish victims of Presumed Innocent and Jagged Edge? Indeed, so low has opinion sunk that members of the legal profession can be served up as either running bad jokes (Indecent Proposal) or dinosaur fodder: Jurassic Park gets one of its biggest laughs from a cowardly advocate being devoured whole by a T Rex while he's hiding in the loo.

In Guilty as Sin Rebecca De Mornay has audiences on her side when she is stalked by a client, even when she breaks the very rules she's sworn to uphold. Julia Roberts too plays fast and loose in the forthcoming The Pelican Brief, also based on a Grisham novel (as is The Client, which offers much the same scenario). Even The Firm's heroic Cruise and Hackman are ultimately counsel without conscience. Which leads one to conclude that the author is every bit as cynical as the American legal system.