Tom Cruise participated in some strange moments during his decades of public life. As far as sheer weirdness goes, it’s tough to top the infamous couch-jumping incident on The Oprah Winfrey Show. These days, he tends to play things very safe — maybe not literally safe, because for Cruise playing it “safe” means HALO jumping out of a plane or driving a motorcycle off a cliff. But one does get the sense watching his modern action films that he is reluctant to bare his soul onscreen, or to do anything too bizarre or surreal. His performances take enormous physical risks, but not emotional ones.

There was a time, though, when Cruise’s adventurousness extended beyond incredible stunt work. Back then, he was willing to deliver a wild monologue about the masculine need to tame a particular part of the female anatomy, and to play out the potential dissolution of a marriage onscreen with his real-life wife. For some reason, he was also willing to play a lawyer who is inexplicably good at gymnastics, and who will occasionally burst into flips when the mood strikes.

That happened in The Firm, the 1993 thriller based on the enormously popular John Grisham novel. In the film version, Cruise plays Mitch McDeere, a brilliant Harvard law student who accepts his dream job at a Memphis law firm named Bendini, Lambert & Locke. Mitch’s dream turns into a nightmare when he learns that his new employers make most of their money laundering Mafia profits. As the firm’s newest associate, Mitch gets targeted by the FBI, who want his help exposing his bosses’ illegal activities, and by the firm itself, which will seemingly stop at nothing to protect its secrets — up to and including murdering partners who contemplate quitting their immoral but lucrative gigs.

What does any of that have to do with gymnastics? Absolutely nothing! Which is why it is so incredibly odd when, a few minutes into The Firm, this happens:

I promise you, this moment makes even less sense in context. Mitch and his wife Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn) are in Memphis to contemplate Bendini, Lambert & Locke’s job offer, and they’re enjoying a night out on the town with one of Mitch’s potential new co-workers and his wife. When they come across this young boy doing backflips for money, Mitch joins in out of nowhere. (Somehow he even knows the precise number of backflips the kid is going to do so they can stop and high five at the exact same moment.)

The other lawyer and his wife are understandably impressed by this sudden and unmotivated physical outburst. But then the conversation turns to other matters and the topic never really comes up again. A few minutes later, Mitch accepts the job at Bendini, Lambert & Locke, and a few minutes after that, he begins to suspect there’s something fishy about the place. At that point, he’s way too busy trying to stay alive and out of prison to do more backflips.

Apart from a single moment in the opening credits where Mitch plays a game of basketball, he never goes to a gym or exercises — nothing that would suggest the sort of athletic background needed for a spontaneous floor exercise routine.

Mitch’s tumbling outburst seems utterly random and superfluous, but you know what Chekov said: If in the first act you have someone do unexplained backflips, then in the following one a reason will become clear. Near the end of the movie, Cruise finds himself chased into a building by a pair of hitmen — played, in a fun bit of retrospective casting by Tobin Bell and Dean Norris. Mitch gets cornered in a room with no exit except for a tiny window high up on the wall. Can you guess what he does? You got it: More gymnastics.

This time, Mitch uses a water pipe like a set of uneven bars, and tries to kick out a tiny window. Then he uses even more impressive gymnastic abilities to hang above Bell’s head while he searches the room.

To recap: Mitch McDeere, genius lawyer, a guy who got the second-highest score on the bar exam in the entire state, is also a skilled practitioner of gymkata. This sublime and majestic fusion of gymnastics and martial arts was first invented by the 1985 masterpiece Gymkata, where real-life Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas played a fictional competitive gymnast who becomes a spy for the U.S. government.

For those who’ve never had the pleasure...

Was Mitch McDeere a fan of Gymkata? Is Tom Cruise still a fan of Gymkata? How else do you explain the fact that The Firm’s story about tax fraud and money laundering gets resolved by Tom Cruise performing an improvised Maltese cross on some exposed piping? Forget the criminal conspiracy at Bendini, Lambert & Locke; this is the mystery from The Firm that I need answered.

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