'The Firm' Cayman Tour
During the great COVID 19 lockdown of 2020, none of us in the Cayman Islands were allowed to even leave our own homes for much of the months of April and May. As such, movie and TV binging (next to drinking) became the main pastime, and during this period “The Firm” came across my Netflix queue, so of course I had to watch it.
For those who don’t know, John Grishman’s bestseller novel “The Firm” was published in 1991, and the plot has much to do with the Cayman Islands. After the book's initial release, The Firm remained on The New York Times' bestseller list for 47 weeks and became the seventh bestselling novel of 1991, so it’s no surprise that in 1992 it was made into a movie starring Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting a Caymanian gentleman named Bert. We got to chatting for quite a while, and our conversation meandered through various topics, including diving, and what Cayman was like when he was a young man. During this conversation, Bert happened to mention he was an extra in the party scene of the movie. “It was filmed at the old Holiday Inn. You can’t tell it’s me, but I’m in the background dancing.” Bert recalls. “I was able to meet all of the actors including Tom and Gene.”
Bert is not the first person I've heard a similar story from. While a surprisingly large number of film and TV productions have been shot in the Cayman Islands, The Firm was undoubtedly the most successful and well known. All of the island scenes were shot in Grand Cayman. Even today, Grand Cayman is a small island and word travels fast. As I write these words, a film crew for HBO is on-island filming a reality TV show, and word about it is everywhere. The 1990 Cayman Islands census lists the population of the island less than half of what it was today. As such, the production of the movie was a very big deal for anyone who lived in Grand Cayman at the time, and many remember it fondly.
Almost 30 years later, The Firm still holds up as a good thriller even though at 2 hours and 34 minutes, it is a bit long. For this reason it’s understandable that some of you might not want to watch it in its entirety. So for the Cayman Islands enthusiasts, we’ve watched the movie for you, and picked out all of the Cayman Islands scenes so you can fast forward right to them, while trying not to spoil the plot for those of you who haven’t seen it.
At 32 minutes, the movie has a hard cut from a scene of Tom Cruise and his wife arguing in their Memphis living room directly, into the movie’s only underwater diving shot. It’s a heavily colored 14 second clip of Gene Hackman, quite literally dragging Tom Cruise around a reef by his alternate second stage regulator, a sight which made me laugh out loud. A common legend is the scene was shot at the famous West Bay dive site ‘Trinity Caves.’ It’s hard to say if this is true or not, and I’ve heard all kinds of stories and no one can seem to remember. Some claim it was shot at Trinity Caves. Others claim it was not even shot in the Cayman Islands, but in the Bahamas. When we look at IMDB’s location list for the movie, The Bahamas isn’t listed, so we can likely rule this out.
Now cumulatively the Divetech staff members have dived Trinity Caves thousands of times, and many of us have examined the footage. It's possible that they are traversing the wall from west to east over the main pinnacle of the site where the mooring pin is currently located. But it could just as easily be some random feature on another dive site. None of us could say for sure one way or another. No reference is made in the dialogue where the dive site is. None of the old timers I know in Cayman know, and I can’t find any reference online.
Immediately after the underwater diving scene at 32 minutes, the first of the movie’s 2 Grand Cayman sequences begins with Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman on the Georgetown Waterfront. Despite the almost 30 year gap, the waterfront is easily recognizable. Following this, they depart for the Hyatt Regency Hotel and Resort where the characters’ ‘tax avoidance’ meeting with Sonny takes place. Back in the 1990’s the Hyatt was the resort in the Cayman Islands. Sadly it was destroyed in 2004 from Hurricane Ivan. IMDB indicates the structure has been torn down, but as someone who lives just 300 yards from this property, I can assure you the skeletal remains are still up to this day, and it’s fountain entrance displayed in the movie is still identifiable.
The law firm’s condo units were never revealed in the movie, but reported by several online sources to be filmed at the Great House on West Bay Road in Seven Mile Beach. There are several scenes in the movie showing exterior shots of the condos, including a 4 second shot of the building’s south side and beach. While today, there are some landscaping differences, the building’s distinctive roofline matches the movie scenes exactly.
The night-time party scene was filmed at the beachside bar of the former Holiday Inn. The hotel has long since been torn down and in its place was built the Ritz Carlton.
Interestingly is the fictitious diving operator “Abanks Diving Lodge” and it’s owner Barry Abanks featured in the movie. The name Abanks is no doubt a spin-off of one of Cayman’s oldest family names “Ebanks.” Hundreds of residents, 3 roads, and dozens of businesses have the name Ebanks, including “Ebanks Watersports.” The Abanks Diving Lodge was a set, built for the movie on the edge of Grand Cayman’s North Sound in Newlands, it was intended to be kept as a tourist attraction, however this didn’t pan out. Records are spotty, however it does seem like following the popularity of the film, someone tried to make a business of the same name “Abanks Diving Lodge,” which had limited success. Likely this would have had to do with the location. Anyone familiar with the Newlands section of Grand Cayman knows its well off the beaten path for tourism. While some records show the Abanks Diving Lodge did have a presence on the Georgetown Waterfront, it didn't last very long. Today, the location of the Abanks Dive Lodge set is now a private boat yard, and the structure which had the fictitious dive shop has been long gone. Unfortunately I could not gain access to even get a photo of this, as the road is gated off.
Astute viewers will note the attention to detail that went into the Abanks Dive Lodge set. On the wall behind Mr. Abanks in several of the scenes are PADI certificates, along with promotions of upcoming dive trips and specials on a blackboard. It looks very authentic as a Caribbean dive shop and I was surprised to learn this was a made-for-movie set. When I first viewed the film, seeing these things made me assume it was shot at a real dive shop. The only thing I found out of place in the movie was the presence of a Lake Buccaneer LA-4-200 Seaplane emblazoned with the dive shop’s name, moored up next to his dive boats. However the plane is there, as it later becomes a key element of the plot.
At 36 minutes, Tom Cruise’s character Mitch is taking a taxi ride to see Mr Abanks. The scene shows a taxi on what is clearly Seaview Road on Cayman’s east side - likely by the famous Blow Holes. The taxi’s location was about 15 miles past where the Abanks Diving Lodge was actually located, and would have taken far longer than Mitch had in his timeline of the plot. It seems like this shot location was clearly chosen for its picturesque nature, so we will forgive them for this artistic license.
The fictitious nature of the Abanks Diving Lodge leads to another odd coincidence though. At 1 hour 36 minutes in the movie, Tom Cruise’s character Mitch sends a fax over to Barry Abanks. As the fax is coming off the machine, clearly visible on Abanks’ desk is a notepad with printed text “Bob Soto’s Diving.” Bob Soto was the pioneer and father of scuba diving in the Cayman Islands, having a highly successful watersports business for decades in Grand Cayman.
The association of the dive site Trinity Caves to the movie is a persistent one, and most Divemasters will brief that the movie's underwater scene was shot at Trinity Caves. More likely however, the association simply has to do with the dialog found at 1 hour 38 minutes. Tom Cruise’s character Mitch, makes a call to the diving operator Mr. Abanks. Mitch needs to try and distract Gene Hackman’s character (Avery) for a period of time, and asks for Mr. Abank’s help in doing so. The dialog is as follows:
Mr Abanks: Abanks Diving Lodge.
Mitch: What time has Avery charted the boat for?
Mr Abanks: 2:30
Mitch: OK, we gotta keep him out long enough to copy everything in the closet.
Mr Abanks: Don’t worry, my friends are taking him to Trinity Caves, it should be about 6 hours.
The amusing part of this for us, is that anyone who has dived Trinity Caves knows its mooring pin is 2,206 feet from West Bay Dock. Even when the boat is moving at idle speed, it takes only 6 or 7 minutes to get there, so unless the boat departed from Cayman’s East end, the 6 hour estimate is always found to be humorous. However, if the boat left from the location of the fictitious Abanks Diving Lodge, the total trip could easily be 6 hours, although they'd have passed by about 80 other dive sites on their way.
The movie’s final Cayman scenes concludes with one last shot of a boat on the Abanks Diving Lodge dock 2 hours 24 minutes, and the movie ends 10 minutes later.
We give the film 2 fins up and think if you've not seen it, you should check it out.