Tuesday, 22 October 2013

A Few Good Men, 1992

For Overlooked Films, Audio & Video this Tuesday, head over to Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.

A Few Good Men can be classified as an overlooked film if you haven't seen it yet. It is by no means a forgotten movie: I have seen it more than once.

The final courtroom battle between rookie lawyer Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) of the US Navy and highly decorated Col. Nathan R. Jessup (Jack Nicholson), Commanding Officer, US Marine Corps, Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, is the decisive moment in the entire film. Take this 20-minute high-voltage scene out and Judge Col. Julius Randolph (J.A. Preston) might have dismissed the court martial proceedings as a tad too boring.

Kaffee and his two assistants, Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) and Lieutenant Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak), try all means to successfully defend the two US marines charged with the murder of a fellow marine, Private Santiago, at Guantanamo Bay. The defendants are accused of carrying out a Code Red order, “a violent extrajudicial punishment,” that Kaffee suspects was ordered by Jessup. He has no evidence to nail the colonel. As a last ditch attempt and at the risk of jeopardising his fledgling career, he puts the acerbic naval officer in the dock, in the thin hope that Jessup's military arrogance and disdain for the civilians he defends will be his undoing.

Aside from Cruise, Nicholson, Moore, and Pollak, A Few Good Men has a few more top actors in the form of Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and J.T. Walsh. But it's Cruise who steals the show with a very fine courtroom performance supported by the rest of the able cast that you can't help thinking might have been quietly told that this was his film; except for Nicholson, who is in his element as the thundering Col. Jessup. Those last 20 minutes are entirely his.

Before I leave you with the high-decibel verbal duel between Cruise and Nicholson (courtesy: IMDb), here’s a question: which other actor would have fit into Col. Jessup’s shoes? My answer: Gene Hackman. Check him out in Crimson Tide (1995) and Behind Enemy Lines (2001).

Now then, read how Nicholson cuts Cruise down to size…


Kaffee: Colonel Jessup, did you order the Code Red?
Judge Randolph: You don't have to answer that question!
Col. Jessup: I'll answer the question!
Col. Jessup: You want answers?
Kaffee: I think I'm entitled to.
Col. Jessup: You want answers?
Kaffee: I want the truth!

Col. Jessup: You can't handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honour, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punch line. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to.

Kaffee: Did you order the Code Red?
Col. Jessup: I did the job I…
Kaffee: Did you order the Code Red?
Col. Jessup: You're goddamn right I did!


A Few Good Men is directed by Rob Reiner (When Harry Met Sally, The Bucket List) and written by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) based on his play, of the same name, and which was apparently inspired by his lawyer sister’s proposed visit to Guantanamo Bay to defend some marines who nearly killed a fellow marine.

Highly recommended.

20 comments:

  1. I remember liking this one a lot when it came out at the cinema despite not being much of a Tom Cruise fan (and indeed Kevin Bacon positively acts him off the screen in my view) - it is a really entertaining film and like most courtroom dramas is nigh on irresistible to me. Thanks for bringing back the happy memories Prashant.

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    1. Sergio, I found the courtroom drama absorbing, even if exaggerated as they usually are. I like Tom Cruise in only some of his films. I never thought of Bacon's supremacy over Cruise in the film.

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  2. That scene is so famous, and for good reasons. I like your Gene Hackman substitute. Maybe Donald Sutherland?

    I have to admit to not being a Cruise fan either, but this one is great all the same. I'll have to re-watch it...

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    1. Fleur, I like Gene Hackman in no-nonsense, street-smart, tough guy roles that he has played a few times. He is a terrific character actor. I didn't think of Sutherland but it's worth a shot.

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  3. Here's one I actually saw. I thought it was pretty good.

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    1. Charles, I often re-watch certain scenes that I like in movies and this film is one of them.

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  4. Yep, this was a good one but I don't think I've watched it but once or twice. Not a big favorite of mine as I thought it was predictable but still like you said it's those last 20 minutes with Nicholson on the stand that will grab your attention and won't let go.

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    1. Keishon, it's not a favourite of mine either; very few films are for that matter. I re-watch this film for the courtroom drama that I usually enjoy in both movies and books.

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  5. Kevin Bacon is the actor to watch in this movie, for sure. Nicholson is ridiculously over the top in every single scene. But he made that "You can't handle the truth" scene a classic movie moment in modern cinema, I will admit. A better choice in that role? J.T.Walsh! It would have made him the star he so richly deserved to be. But Hollywood pigeon holed him as a supporting player in every movie he made.

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    1. John, you and Sergio are one on Bacon's role in the film. Next time I watch the film, as I'm likely to, I'll see what I missed about his role. Sometimes I'm so focused on the lead characters that I let secondary characters take a backseat.

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  6. I've never seen this courtroom drama, Prashant. But I have seen THE CAINE MUTINY COURT MARTIAL with Humphrey Bogart which has a dynamite court room scene as well. I'm trying to think of another courtroom drama that worked as well for me but coming up with nothing. Ah, old lady memory.

    James Cagney would have been good as the Colonel. In his time.

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    1. Yvette, thanks for mentioning THE CAINE MUTINY COURT MARTIAL. I haven't seen it. I like James Cagney's films a lot. He had a formidable presence on screen. I'm also thinking of JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG. Another film I need to watch again.

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  7. Prashant: What litigator has not dreamed of a courtroom duel like Cruise and Nicholson. It has been 38 years and I am still waiting.

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    1. Bill, I think both Hollywood and Indian movies have thrived on over-the-top courtroom dramas. In the latter they're exaggerated to the point of being farcical.

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  8. While a lot of what the characters say to one another in this movie feel a bit "stagey", it doesn't matter all that much since Sorkin's script oozes in funny whit, style and thoughtfulness that you don't usually get with courtroom dramas of this nature. Good review Prashant.

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    1. Dan, thanks for visiting and commenting. On the whole I found this film entertaining mainly on account of the courtroom drama which, I thought, was executed very well. In fact, I was impatient for the characters to get back into court and continue with the proceedings.

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  9. Great film though I haven't seen it for a few years.

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    1. Col, it is a very entertaining film though the cover-ups that the powers-that-be indulge in (as they do in real life) send a chill down the spine.

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  10. I do enjoy this film too. I like all the actors and their acting in this film, but I like the suggestions for Gene Hackman and J. T. Walsh as substitutes too.

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    1. Tracy, there are a few senior Hollywood actors I like better than most of their younger counterparts and Hackman is one of them, as is Nicholson, Freeman, Caine, Sutherland, and Poitier, to mention a few. I have seen J.T. Walsh in a few movies though I don't remember which, probably because his is usually a secondary character.

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