In this dramatic courtroom thriller, LT Daniel Kaffee, a Navy lawyer who has never seen the inside of the courtroom, defends two stubborn Marines who have been accused of murdering a colleague. Kaffee is known as being lazy and had arranged for a plea bargain. Downey’s Aunt Ginny appoints Cmdr. Galloway to represent him. Also on the legal staff is LTJG Sam Weinberg.
The team rounds up many facts and Kaffee is discovering that he is really cut out for trial work. The defense is originally based upon the fact that PFC Santiago, the victim, was given a “CODE RED”. Santiago was basically a screw-up. At Gitmo, screw-ups aren’t tolerated. Especially by Col. Nathan Jessup. In Cuba, Jessup and two senior officers try to give all the help they can, but Kaffee knows something’s fishy. In the conclusion of the film, the fireworks are set off by a confrontation between Jessup and Kaffee.
A Few Good Men is a 1992 American legal drama film directed by Rob Reiner and starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, and Demi Moore, with Kevin Bacon, Kevin Pollak, Wolfgang Bodison, James Marshall, J. T. Walsh and Kiefer Sutherland in supporting roles. It was adapted for the screen by Aaron Sorkin from his play of the same name but includes contributions by William Goldman. The film revolves around the court-martial of two U.S. Marines charged with the murder of a fellow Marine and the tribulations of their lawyers as they prepare a case to defend their clients.
Film Review for A Few Good Men
The role doesn’t have to be big, but if it’s good, and if the actor playing it is great, the results can be magically transforming. Witness Jack Nicholson’s vicious, funny, superbly reptilian turn in Rob Reiner’s entertaining “A Few Good Men,” adapted by Aaron Sorkin from his hit Broadway courtroom drama.
Mr. Nicholson doesn’t steal the film, which would mean that he somehow separates himself from everybody else in it. Rather, in the course of only a handful of scenes, he seems to suffuse the entire production, giving it a weight, density and point that might not otherwise be apparent.
The role, beautifully written, is made to Mr. Nicholson’s order. It’s that of Col. Nathan R. Jessep of the United States Marine Corps, a tough, bigoted Vietnam veteran, a career officer shaped by decades of cold-war politics. By chance, Jessep is stationed in that last corner of the earth where the cold war goes on as if there were no yesterday.
He’s the commander of the marines stationed at the American naval base on the southwestern coast of Cuba at Guantanamo Bay, on a small bit of arid real estate protecting one of the best anchorages in the western Atlantic, a legacy of the Spanish-American War. It’s there that the United States and Cuba, separated by barbed wire and command posts, have continued to co-exist through the Bay of Pigs invasion, the great missile crisis and a continuing, crippling economic embargo, in one of the strangest examples of symbiosis to be found in all of international relations.
This geographic fact becomes a central image in the film adaptation, which gracefully opens up the story of a military court-martial without allowing the tension to evaporate. There are times when the movie seems to force-feed the audience essential information, and when the audience might well wonder whether the emotional crises of the defense lawyers really are of more interest than the fates of the two men on trial.
Yet such things are built into the structure and nature of the drama, which is less about the workings of the military than about the mechanics of this particular inquiry. The story is this: in the course of what appears to be a hazing incident at Guantanamo, a Marine private has died, apparently poisoned by the rag stuffed into his throat before his mouth was taped. Two enlisted men are charged with the murder. As often happens during proceedings of this sort, the victim and the men on trial become less important than the politics surrounding the case.
The Marine Corps would like to wrap it up as quickly and efficiently as possible. To this end, a hot-shot young naval lawyer, Lieut. (j.g.) Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise), is assigned to the defense with the understanding that he’ll persuade the defendants to accept a plea bargain. Also assigned to the defense is Lieut. Comdr. JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore), who acts as Kaffee’s conscience, eventually persuading him that there is a strong possibility that the two enlisted men were, in fact, acting on orders from their officers.
The investigation, initially undertaken by Kaffee with some reluctance, uncovers the fact that the victim, Pfc. William T. Santiago (Michael DeLorenzo), had for some time been trying to transfer out of his unit. Also, that he had ignored both the Marine Corps code and its chain of command. He had written letters to Washington offering to testify that he had witnessed an incident in which a member of his unit had arbitrarily fired on a Cuban watchtower near the base.
As the investigation continues, Kaffee and Galloway, who clearly never go to the movies, read a book or spend much time talking to career service personnel, are surprised to discover a kind of military mind that, to them, seems prehistoric. The two defendants at first behave like automatons. Pfc. Louden Downey (James Marshall) is so taciturn that he seems seriously retarded. His co-defendant and spokesman, Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison), refuses all offers of help. He will stoically accept whatever punishment is meted out. The two men simply parrot the Marines’ code of fidelity to unit, corps, God and country.
On a fact-finding trip to Guantanamo, Kaffee, Galloway and their assistant Lieut. Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak) have their first brush with Jessep at a scary lunch, during which the colonel cheerfully lies through his teeth. For Galloway’s benefit, he also describes the special kind of high one can get when having sex with a superior officer. According to Jessep, that’s one of the few benefits of an integrated service.
“A Few Good Men” doesn’t pack the surprises of “Witness for the Prosecution,” nor does it probe very deeply into the psyche of men who exercise the power of dictators in a society that congratulates itself on its freedoms. It’s no “Full-Metal Jacket.” “A Few Good Men” recalls something of “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial,” though it is most troubling not for the questions it raises, but for the casual way it finally treats its two lost, utterly bewildered defendants.
The screenplay is a good one, directed with care and acted, for the most part, with terrific conviction. Among the supporting players who do exceptional work are Kiefer Sutherland, as a Marine officer who is a Jessep in the making; J. T. Walsh, as an officer fatally flawed by conscience; Kevin Bacon, who appears as the military prosecutor, and Mr. Bodison, a new young actor whose performance as the more prominent defendant gives the film its melancholy shock value.
Mr. Cruise, Ms. Moore and Mr. Pollak are perfectly adequate in less flashy roles, which, unlike the others, appear to have been constructed to keep the plot moving right along. They have to play it comparatively straight, which must be maddening when the actors around them are having such a colorful time.
Mr. Nicholson is in his own league. His Jessep is both a joy to watch because of the actor’s skill, and an explanation of why the United States base at Guantanamo Bay, whatever its military value, continues to exist. “A Few Good Men” is a big commercial entertainment of unusually satisfying order.
A Few Good Men (1992)
Directed by: Rob Reiner
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Pollak, James Marshall, J. T. Walsh, Kiefer Sutherland, James Marshall, Matt Craven, Wolfgang Bodison
Screenplay by: Aaron Sorkin
Production Design by: J. Michael Riva
Cinematography by: Robert Richardson
Film Editing by: Robert Leighton, Steven Nevius
Costume Design by: Gloria Gresham
Set Decoration by: Michael Taylor
Art Direction by: David F. Klassen
Music by: Marc Shaiman
MPAA Rating: R for language.
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Release Date: December 11, 1992