Mitch McDeere, about to graduate in the top five of this Harvard Law School class, is approached by Bendini, Lambert & Locke, a small but highly prestigious tax law firm in Memphis. Mitch seems to be exactly what they require: very bright, very ambitious and very eager to improve on his humble background. To Mitch this law firm appears to be the answer to all his prayers: a very high income, lots of fringe benefits, the chance to become partner within ten years and retire a millionaire at the age of 45. In return the firm demands hard work, total commitment and irreproachable behaviour both in and outside the office walls. Although Mitch and his wife Abby are slightly irked by the fact that their private life will also be under close scrutiny, they decide that the benefits of the job outweigh this disadvantage. After a short visit to Memphis, they accept the challenge. They move to Memphis, to a beautiful house (thanks to a low rent mortgage loan provided by The Firm) and a brand new BMW.
Associate Lamar Quin acts as Mitch's guide and mentor, while Lamar's wife Kay shows Abby the ropes of Memphis life. The firm strikes Mitch as a closely knit family, with little or no social mixing with outsiders. But everybody seems to be content and so far no one has ever quitted to look for another job. One either retires, rich and respected, or one dies, like a few of them did, as Mitch was to find out. Tragic accidents, regretted by all. Mitch is assigned as associate to tax lawyer Avery Tolar, one of the partners. His workload is enormous and leaves him hardly any time to study for his bar examination, on which his employment depends. He makes such long hours that Abby feels neglected, but he is determined to make a good impression and to become the youngest partner ever.
Bendini Building, the Firm's headquarters, is an old warehouse, converted by founder Anthony Bendini into a modern and luxurious law office with highly sophisticated security systems. The fifth floor houses the Security Department, headed by a tough ex-cop named DeVasher, the only one who calls senior partner Oliver Lambert 'Ollie'. Mitch doesn't know DeVasher, but the security man knows everything about Mitch and Abby. Small wonder, all the rooms in the McDeere house are bugged and so is the BMW. Every sound they make, even in the bedroom, is recorded. McDeere is safe, reports DeVasher to Lambert. That is not the case with associates Hodge and Kozinsky: they have been in touch with the FBI.
'They' in New York don't like this sort of security leak, says DeVasher, in particular Lazarov is displeased. A few days later everyone in the firm is shocked to hear about the tragic accident that abruptly ended the lives of Hodge and Kozinski. They were vacationing on the Cayman Islands, where the firm has a condo for the partners and associates and also for the benefit of important clients. They were sailing, when their boat suddenly exploded. Especially Lamar Quin is affected by this dramatic event, because Kozinsky was a close friend. Mitch, who had never met Hodge and Kozinski, has no suspicions.
He is totally unaware that he is under close scrutiny. Nor has he any inkling of the fact that the firm's front of respectability and genuine legitimated clients is, in fact, a clever cover for a Mafia controlled money laundry operation. He is too busy working on the tax problems of Avery Tolar's clients Capps and Koker-Hanks, too occupied, as well as with his preparations for the bar examination. When he finally passes with top honours, the partners throw a surprise party for him in the conference room.
One day, having lunch in a small deli near the office, Mitch is approached by a man, who identifies himself as FBI-agent Wayne Torrance, who warns him about the Firm, the bugs and the suspicious nature of the death of Hodge and Kozinski. He tells Mitch how he can reach him. McDeere is shocked and doesn't believe a word of what he has been told. He even tells firm members of the meeting, holding back, however, on the bugs and the agent's phone number. He is told, that Torrance is new on the job, a real eager beaver, out to make a name for himself by going after the Firm, hoping to get something on their clients. They tell him also, that Hodge and Kozinksi are the accidental victims of a revenge act against the captain of the boat, known as a drugs dealer; the bomb was probably meant for him. Later, Lambert and Locke discuss the situation with DeVasher. Lazarov might want to have Tarrance killed, he says, which would be disastrous but DeVasher would have to obey. Mitch will have to be kept busy to avoid further contact. Mitch visits his brother Ray, convicted for manslaughter in prison. They joke about Ray's language skills and plans to escape. Ray gives Mitch the name of a good and loyal private detective, Eddie Lomax. Mitch looks up the private detective and asks him to check out the three earlier deaths in the firm as well as Wayne Torrance.
Avery Tolar and Mitch go to the Caymans to meet Capps and work on his deal. The place is beautiful. Tolar drinks and chases women in between work, Mitch is picked up by a beautiful local girl - he feels guilty but not enough to not go along. Business deals are made with one of the many banks on the tax haven Grand Cayman. Tolar explains he is the rogue of the firm, his behaviour would be frowned upon but not too many people know about it. During lunch Mitch goes to the library to research the accident with the two colleagues. He notices he is being followed. He shakes the tail, takes a taxi to the diving club owned by Abanks, the father of the killed boat captain, who confirms Mitch's suspicions about the deaths being an accident or drugs related. Mitch flies home and picks up Abby from her work as an elementary school teacher. He wants to make up for past weeks of tension and feels guilty about the Cayman girl. He doesn't tell her about it. DeVasher shows Lambert pictures of Mitch and the Cayman girl, a prostitute paid by the firm, making love on the beach. He also tells Lambert about Mitch slipping the tail the firm had put on him, but he is not worried about it. Mitch meets Eddie Lomax in a park. All three earlier deaths occurred under suspicious circumstances. Tarrance turns out to be one of the best FBI agents, especially assigned to Memphis two years before. Eddie feels Mitch is in grave danger, he offers his help.
Mitch meets Abby for dinner downtown so they can talk privately (he is sure they are being followed and bugged). He tells her about meeting two FBI agents, Tarrance and an ex-fellow student of Mitch's. He hasn't told the people from the Firm about this meeting. He reveals to Abby all his actions concerning the dead colleagues and the private detective. This news upsets Abby tremendously and she leaves for a Christmas stay at her parents' in Kentucky. Mitch drives to Panama City Beach, Florida to look up his mother. He watches her at work as a waitress in the local Waffle Hut but he doesn't go up to her. In Memphis, Eddie Lomax is killed by three shots to the back of his head. Lazarov wants Mitch followed 24 hours a day, and kept in Memphis. Grudgingly, DeVasher allows for Mitch to go to Washington for a four day seminar. The men don't know about Mitch telling everything to Abby. Mitch meets Lomax' secretary who tells him she is scared. Eddie had told her a little about Mitch's case. Mitch promises to keep in touch.
Avery Tolar is off to the Caymans and Mitch to Washington. On Grand Cayman Tolar helps unload 6.500.000 dollars in small notes for an illegal deposit in one of the many banks there. At the start of the seminar Mitch is asked to come and see the FBI director, F. Denton Voyles. He is taken to the Vietnam War Memorial. Tarrance is there, who tells him they will probably have shaken the Memphis men sent to Washington to keep an eye on Mitch. The director tells Mitch everything about the Firm, the bugs, the deaths. The Firm is part of a larger, illegal business owned by the Monolto crime family. (Mafia). The Firm hires associates to do legal work for the legitimate clients, then demand co-operation on illegal transactions, threatening to kill the wives and kids, offering large salaries and bonuses. All partners are in on the deal, some associates, maybe some secretaries. The five colleagues have been murdered because they wanted to leave the Firm. Hodge and Kozinski had gone further, they wanted to talk to the FBI. Getting the firm would mean a major blow to organised crime. Mitch is asked to be the FBI inside man in return for protection and a price. Tarrance will be the contact man. Mitch returns from Washington. In an airport bar he tells Abby everything. She is terrified. They discuss what to do. Mitch thinks they are being watched. Tarrance contacts Mitch to ask for a decision. Does he want to cooperate? They are spotted. Mitch pretends to run from the FBI agent, and tells Tolar, Lambert, McKnight and Locke about the incident. He convinces them that this was only his second contact with the FBI. DeVasher confronts Mitch. He blackmails him not to get in touch with Tarrance again by showing him the photographs of Mitch and the Cayman girl and promising him Abby will be the first to see them if he does. Mitch consents. The McDeere's live under strained conditions. They only really talk on evening walks. He receives a note from Eddie Lomax's secretary Tammy Greenwood; she wants to meet. DeVasher tells Locke that Lazarov suspects, through a contact at the FBI, that Mitch is lying: he has seen agents in Washington. Preliminary plans for his assassination must be made. Four associates, not in on the Firm's real dealings, must be fired.
Tammy rents office space close to the Bendini building. She orders a huge copier to be installed. Mitch is beginning to smuggle files out of the office, bringing them to Tammy who photocopies them and files two copies in separate places. For Abby's 25th anniversary the McDeeres go to a restaurant where they pick up a cassette tape with the FBI's financial counter bid for Mitch's help. The offer is 1 million dollars tax free and all the help possible with new jobs and identities and protection for life the McDeeres think they need. They decide to ask two million dollars. Mitch is still billing record hours. He is invited for the honour of having lunch in the partners' lunch room on the fifth floor. Tammy continues copying, occasionally using Abby as a contact. Mitch meets Tarrance at a truckers' cafe. Tarrance agrees to pay two million dollar. As an extra Mitch wants the release of his brother Ray from jail. The McDeeres are allowed a week's holiday on the Caymans. After arrival, Mitch takes a local flight to one of the smaller islands to meet Tarrance, who fills him in on the latest news. He identifies two Morolto men who have been sent to watch the McDeeres on the island.
The McDeeres go diving with Abanks. They talk, on the boat and in a bar. They are being watched. DeVasher meets with Lambert and Locke. He still suspects Mitch is talking to Tarrance but cannot prove it. Lazarov is still worried, plans for Mitch's murder will become more fixed. Lazarov meets a representative of another crime family, the Palumbos, in New York. Lazarov buys the services of a Palumbos source within the FBI to find out whether or not they have been in touch with Mitch in Washington. Abby comes to the Bendini building demanding to see Mitch (highly unusual for a wife). She tells him her mother has lung cancer and that she is moving to Kentucky for a while. She doesn't know when she'll be back; things haven't been that great at the McDeere home anyway lately. DeVasher hears the tape of this conversation. Abby leaves for Kentucky but then flies to Miami and on to the Caymans. Avery Tolar is there, working. The day before he finishes he goes to a bar and is picked up by...Tammy. They go to the firm's condo . Tolar gets drugged by Tammy. She gets his keys and opens a secret room filled with cupboards full of files. She spends the night carrying them to and fro to a hotel room where Abby makes copies of the files and of the keys. They can't finish, Tolar wakes up not remembering a thing from the night before. He has to go to work. When he does, Tammy phones Abby to tell her; they finish the copying; all the copies are stored in a warehouse on the island. The phonecall has been recorded by a secret recording machine in the house.
Abby meets Tarrance on a bus to negotiate a deal . The McDeeres want the first million before they hand over any files. The really incriminating files will be handed over when the next million is paid and Ray is released. They split, Abby continues on to Kentucky. The Palumbo source in the FBI knows all about Mitch. He is offered 200.000 dollars for his information. He says he needs two weeks. Capps is not happy with the firm's work and wants to see Tolar. In his absence Mitch copies more incriminating files from his office, opening off-limits cabinets with the keys Abby copied in Grand Cayman. The photocopying is recorded by security. Mitch tells him not to bother. Tammy, posing as a cleaning lady, finds a secret basement room full of computers and filing cabinets in the Bendini building.
Mitch meets Tarrance. He tells him about Tammy working for him and about all the incriminating evidence against the Firm they have found. The Monolto family use the firm to launder money in huge amounts, 800.000.000 dollars over the last three years. In two weeks' time Mitch will deliver all material provided Ray is set free. DeVasher still has doubts about Mitch. He is suspicious about the McDeeres' separation and about the copying in the office. The copied files from Tolar's office have been sent to Chicago for finger print search, which will take a week. He lets Lambert and Locke listen to the taped telephone conversation between Tammy and Abby at Grand Cayman. The three decide Tammy must have been a pickpocket. Lazarov tells DeVasher to suspend Tolar and check all possible explanations of the phonecall. The murder plans for Mitch are almost set, they'll use a bomb in the firm's Lear jet. Mitch meets Tarrance and informs him of the firm's basement room, probably the operation centre for the money laundering activities. Ray will be released on Wednesday. Then the files can be handed over. Mitch is a little worried: locks have been changed in the Bendini building. Lambert tells Mitch he has been transferred to another partner and that he has to go to the Caymans on Wednesday to work on Tolar's unfinished business. Mitch agrees to go, although it doesn't fit in with the plans at all. He sees Tammy to talk about what is happening, and discusses fake passports and IDs and money to Abanks the FBI doesn't know about.
Ray is helped to escape. Even the prison warden is in on the deal. Terry Ross, the Palumbo FBI source, tells the maffia all he knows. Lazarov is contacted. Ross is found out by his FBI colleagues and tells director Voyles about his betrayal. DeVasher talks to the panicking partners. He thinks the damage can be controlled. Mitch will be killed that day on his way to the Caymans. A coded message from Tarrance gets Mitch out of the Bendini building. Mitch is upset because of the FBI leak; he doesn't want to do things their way anymore. He is chased by Morolto men but escapes. He calls Tarrance and says the deal is off. Tarrance is furious and tells Mitch he'll now have the FBI as well as the Moroltos on his trail. Mitch calls Tammy and arranges her and Abby's escape plans. They have no time to lose. Lazarov comes to Memphis. He orders the frightened firm members into action; in the FBI office Voyles does the same with his FBI men.
Ray is on his way to Montgomery with two FBI men on routine surveillance. Abby sees a Monolto woman on the plane to Atlanta. In Nashville Mitch goes to the apartment where all the copies of the files and documents of the Cayman condo now are. Voyles orders Ray's arrest. Mitch gets Ray on the phone in Perdido Beach, their rendez-vous point. When Abby arrives there she is tailed by the Morolto woman. Ray takes care of her and leaves with Abby in a hurry. Mitch goes into a bank in Nashville and has 10 million dollars transferred from a firm's account. He deposits 1 million in his in-laws' account, 1 million in Tammy's account, leaves 1 million in Nashville. The remaining 7 million go to his private number in a bank in Zurich.
Abby and Ray are now hunted by Morolto's men as well as by the FBI and the local police forces. Mitch meets up with them in the Panama City Beach area; he has brought the files in a rented U-haul truck. They disguise themselves, and decide to stop running, hoping they will remain undetected amidst the holiday crowds. In Memphis Lamar Quin and other senior associates decide it would probably be in their best interests if Mitch would escape everybody, with the documents.
Everybody is looking for them. Mitch calls Tammy to tell her where to send the fake passports. The Monolto people realise the McDeeres must still be around. They lure the FBI away with fake reports of sightings and start combing the Panama City Beach area, checking every hotel, motel, and rental apartment. In the meantime Mitch is videotaping all the documents, explaining into the camera all the illegal transactions the firm has been making. Tammy calls Tarrance to tell him the documents will be delivered in 24 hours. The three leave their hotel rooms and go to one of the beach piers. They flash a signal. One of Morolto's men sees them and comes running. Ray kicks him unconscious, then kills him. Abanks picks them up in a rubber boat and brings them to a forty-foot schooner, bought with Mitch's money. They take off. Tammy calls Tarrance to tell him where to find the documents and the videotaped testimony.
Abanks's helper George, Australian bank robber on the run for 28 years with lots of money, tells Mitch to sail the Caribbean the rest of his life, as he has done. They go to Grand Cayman to drop off Abanks, then spend some time in George's simple house on Little Cayman. They have a hard time unwinding. Tammy sends newspaper reports about the arrests and indictments of all the firm's employees and the Morolto crime family. Abby and Mitch decide to take George's advice. They make love on the beach.
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