'The Firm'

The powers behind this 1993 summer blockbuster have carefully protected the core qualities of the John Grisham novel while radically rejiggering its plotline. The result is top-drawer melodrama, a polished example of commercial movie-making that manages to improve upon the original while retaining its best-selling spirit. As the film's hotshot young attorney, Tom Cruise, (pictured, right) was the obvious choice, but the film not only pairs him with Gene Hackman (also pictured) as his legal mentor and Jeanne Tripplehorn as his loving wife but also fills in the background with the strongest and most varied group of supporting actors in memory--e.g., an Oscar-nominated Holly Hunter. Director Sydney Pollack deserves an extra nod for showing how emotional shading and subtlety can be worked into big-ticket terms (HBO Thursday at 1:20 a.m.).

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