Few Good Men, A (1992)
Release Date: December 11th, 1992 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Rob Reiner Actors: Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Pollak, J.T. Walsh, Christopher Guest, Xander Berkeley
t starts in the U.S. naval base of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where two soldiers attack a third, binding and gagging him. The following scene takes viewers to the Judge Advocate General’s Corp in Washington, DC, where Internal Affairs lawyer Lieutenant Commander Jo Galloway (Demi Moore) asks to take up the litigation. The accused, PFC Louden Downey (James Marshall) and Lance Corporal Harold Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison), are in desperate need of a defense team after the assaulted marine, William Santiago (Michael DeLorenzo), dies from the incident. Young but experienced litigator Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) of the Navy is assigned the case instead, much to Jo’s dismay. But she arranges to accompany Kaffee and his assistant, Lt. Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak), to Cuba.
Upon arriving at the marine base, Jo and Danny discover that the soldier’s death was the result of a “Code Red” – a disciplinary command that instructs members of a unit to use physical violence to whip another lagging soldier into shape. And the base’s head honcho, Colonel Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson), apparently gave the order to his underling, disdainful Lt. Jonathan Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland), who in turn ordered the defendants to execute the command. Although a plea could get the accused a mere six months of jail time, Dawson refuses to admit guilt for doing nothing other than carrying out his duty. Danny is infuriated that the corporal’s unwavering sense of honor prevents the group from taking the easy way out, but he’s soon motivated by Jo to seek justice in a full trial.
“A Few Good Men” investigates the inner workings of fanatical marines, questioning the morals, ideals, and methods employed by the armed services. While the premise is fictional, it’s not hard to believe that these underhanded machinations take place in real life. The second half of the film turns into a taut courtroom drama, where a game is waged to determine accomplishments in terms of verdicts, not deciphering right from wrong. Suspicions and personal beliefs are irrelevant; what a lawyer can prove is the only thing that matters. Perjury, misdirection, conspiracy, and cover-ups make the situation more difficult and complex, as the questioning, objections, and outbursts are thrillingly implemented. And all throughout the contentions, the cinematic chemistry between all parties is entirely convincing.
The acting is phenomenal, from the three lead characters to the impressive cast of supporting names, each creating a memorable and significant role. Moore plays the straight-laced, passionate, no-nonsense woman with the simple goal of getting things done; Cruise is the wisecracking, sarcastic, conceited hotshot who revels in showing no respect to his superiors. Kevin Bacon is the prosecuting attorney who poses as both an ally and a nemesis. And Nicholson is the most mesmerizing of all, as the leader who so strongly believes in rank (certainly, a subtext of young versus old surfaces here), honor, loyalty, and discipline that he’s blinded to sound reasoning.
Perhaps what aids these accomplished stars so well is the engaging dialogue by Aaron Sorkin (“Charlie Wilson’s War,” “The Social Network”), whose screenplay is adapted from the nerve-wracking Broadway play, which he also penned (first produced in 1989). The humor is potent, with quick cynicism sprouting up between the collaborating lawyers and riveting back-and-forth verbal warfare exploding from the contending officers. The sophistication and details in their exchanges are nothing short of masterful. The result is a movie that is suspenseful, powerful, poignant, unforgettable, and sharply directed (by Rob Reiner), leading to plenty of critical recognition (it would land both Academy Award and Golden Globe Best Picture nominations) and box office success.
– Mike Massie