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Lately, it's seemed like The Firm's been shedding high-level managers and talent like skin at a leper colony backscratching contest (big names recently out the door include Natalie Portman, Orlando Bloom, Laura Linney, Brittany Murphy*, SMGFPJ, and others), but "allies" of the management company play the departures as more of a goldbricker-purge by CEO Jeff Kwatinetz than rats instinctually abandoning a sinking ship. The NY Times runs The Firm through the inevitable spin/countspin cycle that comes with a Hollywood player losing its heat:

"To another firm, it would seem like an exodus; to another company it would seem like this company is taking on water," said Jordan Schur, president of Geffen Records and one of Mr. Kwatinetz's closest friends. "In reality, it's a correction, of Jeff taking out people who don't want to work, people riding coattails."

Others suggest that the departures are far from over and that the exits to date reflect a wider cash crisis as well as internal doubts about Mr. Kwatinetz's strategies for expansion.

"It means that the original vision that Mike Ovitz was able to achieve, his ability to create a brand for C.A.A., never did get off the ground at the Firm," said Howard Rosenman, former head of motion pictures for Brillstein-Grey, referring to Mr. Ovitz's legendary tenure at the Creative Artists Agency. "To create branding, even the geniuses of this town have trouble. Look what's happening to DreamWorks."

Ouch. Whether or not The Firm is in trouble or merely regrouping (hey, they've still got Cam and Leo, right! Right?!), being lumped in with both Mike Ovitz and studio-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown DreamWorks in the same passage can't be good. The folks at Brillstein-Grey had better make sure they've got plenty of paper in the fax machine to handle a panicked flood of resumes and headshots.

[*We think that's Murphy's head cropped out of the above picture of ex-fiancee Kwatinetz, which ran with the NYT article. We added the red arrow, just for fun.]