Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Few Good Men (1992)

A Few Good MenHow much critical thought can the military allow its rank and file? Certainly most orders must be followed unquestioningly; otherwise ultimately the entire Armed Services would collapse. But where do you draw the line? Does it matter how well soldiers know not only their military but also their civic duties? Does it matter whether trials against members of the military are handled by way of court-martials, or before a country's ordinary courts?

I first saw "A Few Good Men" as an in-flight movie, and after the first couple of scenes I thought that for once they'd really picked the right kind of flick: A bit cliched (yet another idle, unengaged lawyer being dragged into vigorously pursuing a case against his will), but good actors, a good director and a promising storyline.

Then the movie cut from the introductory scenes in Washington, D.C. to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Jack Nicholson (Colonel Nathan Jessup) inquired: "Who the f**k is PFC William T. Santiago?"

And suddenly I was all eyes and ears.

Director Rob Reiner and Nicholson's costars describe on the movie's DVD how from the first time Nicholson spoke this (his very first) line in rehearsal he had everybody's attention; and the overall bar for a good performance immediately rose to new heights. Based on my own reaction, I believe them sight unseen. Or actually, not really "unseen," as the result of Nicholson's influence is there for everybody to watch: Never mind that he doesn't actually have all that much screen time, his intensity as an actor and the personality of his character, Colonel Jessup, dominate this movie more than anything else; far beyond the now-famous final showdown with Tom Cruise's Lieutenant Kaffee. Nobody could have brought more power to the role of Jessup than Nicholson, no other actor made him a more complex figure, and nobody delivered his final monologue so as to force you to think about the issues he (and this film) addresses; and that despite all the movie's cliches: The reluctant lawyer turning out a courtroom genius (as lead counsel in a murder trial, barely a year out of law school and without *any* prior trial experience, no less), the son fighting to rid himself of a deceased superstar-father's overbearing shadow, and the "redneck" background of the victim's superior officer Lieutenant Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland, who nevertheless milks the role for all it's worth).

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who adapted his own play, reportedly based the story's premise the attempted cover-up of a death resulting from an illegal pseudo-disciplinary action on a real-life case that his sister, a lawyer, had come across in the JAG Corps. (Although even if I take his assertion at face value that assigning the matter to a junior lawyer without trial experience was part of the cover-up, I still don't believe the real case continued the way it does here. But be that as it may.) Worse, the victim is a marine serving at "Gitmo," the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, where *any* kind of tension assumes an entirely different dimension than in virtually any other location. In come Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and co-counsels Lt. Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollack) and Lt.Cmdr. JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore), assigned to defend the two marines held responsible for Santiago's death; L.Cpl. Harold Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) and PFC Louden Downey (James Marshall), who claim to have acted on Kendrick's orders to subject Santiago to a "code red," an act of humiliating peer-punishment, after Santiago had gone outside the chain of command to rat on a fellow marine (none other than Dawson), attempting to obtain a transfer out of "Gitmo." But while Kendrick sternly denies having given any such order and prosecuting attorney Captain Ross (Kevin Bacon) is ready to have the defendants' entire company swear that Kendrick actually ordered them to leave Santiago alone, Kaffee and Co. believe their clients' story which ultimately leads them to Jessup himself, as it is unthinkable that the event should have occurred without his knowledge or even specific direction.

By the time of this movie's production, Tom Cruise had made the part of the shallow youngster suddenly propelled into manhood one of his trademark characters (see, e.g., "The Color of Money," "Top Gun" and "Rain Man"); nevertheless, his considerable skill (mostly) elevates Kaffee's part above cardboard level. Demi Moore gives one of her strongest-ever performances as Commander Galloway, who would love to be lead counsel herself in accordance with her rank's entitlements, but overcomes her disappointment to push Kaffee to a top-notch performance instead. Kevin Pollack's, Kevin Bacon's and J.T. Walsh's (Jessup's deputy Lt.Col. Markinson's) performances are straight-laced enough to easily be overlooked, but they're fine throughout and absolutely crucial foils for Kaffee, Galloway and Jessup; and so, vis-a-vis Dawson, is James Marshall's shy, scared Downey, who is clearly in way over his head. The movie's greatest surprise, however, is Wolfgang Bodison, who, although otherwise involved with the production, had never acted before being drafted by Rob Reiner solely on the basis of his physical appearance, which matched Dawson's better than any established actor's; and who gives a stunning performance as the young Lance Corporal who will rather be convicted of murder than take an unhonorable plea bargain, yet comes to understand his actions' full complexity upon hearing the jury's verdict.

"Unit corps God country" is the code of honor according to which, Dawson tells Kaffee, the marines at "Gitmo" live their lives; and Colonel Jessup declares that under his command orders are followed "or people die," and words like "honor," "code" and "loyalty" to him are the backbone of a life spent defending freedom. Proud words for sure: But for the "code red," but for the trespass over that invisible line between a legal and an immoral, illegal order they might well be justified. That line, however, exists, and is drawn even in a non-public court-martial. I'd like to believe that insofar at least, this movie gets it completely right.

Also recommended:


Rules of Engagement

The Firm

The Border

Guantanamo: 'Honor Bound to Defend Freedom'

The Caine Mutiny (Collector's Edition)

In one of the most telling scenes in this movie, Navy Lieutenant Commander Jo Galloway (Demi Moore), a lawyer who is helping to defend two Marines on trial for murder, is asked why she likes these guys so much. And she replies, "Because they stand on a wall, and they say `nothing is going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch'." Which veritably sums up the sense of duty and honor which underscores the conflict of "A Few Good Men," directed by Rob Reiner, and starring Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise. There is a code by which a good Marine must live and die, and it is: Unit, Corps, God, Country. But to be valid, that code must also include truth and justice; and if they are not present, can the code stand? Which is the question asked by director Reiner, who examines the parameters of that code with this film, which centers on the murder of a young Private First Class named William Santiago, who was killed while stationed at the Marine Corps base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The case draws the attention of Commander Galloway, Special Counsel for Internal Affairs in the Judge Advocate General's Corps in Washington, D.C. Galloway, taking into consideration the impeccable service records of the two Marines charged with the crime, convinces her superiors that a thorough investigation is warranted in this case, though there are those in high places who would rather see this one plea bargained and put to rest.

Galloway persists, however, believing that Santiago's death may have resulted from a "Code Red," a method of disciplinary hazing employed in certain circles of the Corps, though illegal. And if this was a Code Red, the real question is, who gave the order? Ultimately, her tenacity prevails, but though Galloway is a seasoned lawyer, she has little actual courtroom experience, so Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Cruise) is assigned to the case, along with Lieutenant Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak), with Galloway, as ranking officer, to assist. Kaffee, the son of a legendary lawyer, has skated through the first nine months of his Naval career, successfully plea bargaining forty-four cases. Outwardly upbeat and personable, Kaffee seems more concerned with his softball game than he does with the time he has to spend on the job. But underneath, he's coping with living his life in the shadow of his late father's reputation, which is an issue with which he must come to terms if he is to successfully effect the outcome of this case. And on this one he will have a formidable opponent: Colonel Nathan R. Jessup (Nicholson), who commands the base at Guantanamo.

As Jessup, Nicholson gives a commanding performance, and once he enters the film you can sense the tension he brings to it, which begins to swell immediately, and which Reiner does a great job of maintaining right up to the end. Jessup is a soldier of the old guard, a man of narrow vision and a particular sense of duty; to Jessup there's two ways of doing things: His way and the wrong way. He's a man who-as he says-eats breakfast three hundred yards away from the enemy, and he's not about to let a couple of lawyers in dress whites intimidate him. And that's exactly the attitude Nicholson brings to this role. When he speaks, you not only hear him loud and clear, you believe him. It's a powerful performance and, as you would expect from Nicholson, entirely convincing and believable.

Cruise, also, gives what is arguably one of the best performances of his career as Kaffee. He perfectly captures the aloofness with which Kaffee initially regards the case, as well as the determination with which he pursues it later. Cruise is convincing in the role, and some of the best scenes in the film are the ones he plays opposite Nicholson in the courtroom, the most memorable being one in which Kaffee exclaims to Jessup, "I want the truth!" to which Jessup replies, "You can't handle the truth!" And the atmosphere fairly crackles.

Moore is outstanding, as well, and she manages to hold her own and make her presence felt even in the scenes dominated by Nicholson and Cruise. It's a fine piece of acting by Moore, who deserves more than just a passing mention for it. Also turning in notable performances are Pollak, whose dry humor adds such an extra touch to the film, and Wolfgang Bodison, who makes an impressive screen debut as Lance Corporal Dawson, on of the Marines on trial for the murder of Santiago.

The supporting cast includes Kiefer Sutherland (Kendrick), Kevin Bacon (Ross), James Marshall (Downey), J.T. Walsh (Markinson), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Hammaker) and Christopher Guest (Dr. Stone). A powerful drama, superbly delivered by Reiner, "A Few Good Men" is a thought provoking, unforgettable motion picture that makes you take pause for a moment to consider some things that are for the most part out of sight and out of mind. Like who is on that wall tonight, and are we safe because of him. And it makes you reflect upon some things perhaps too often taken for granted. And that's what really makes this film so good; and it's all a part of the magic of the movies.

Buy A Few Good Men (1992) Now

I think, if I'd never spent any time in the military, and didn't know how the military, and the people who make it up, operate (like, for instance, the writer and director of this movie don't), I'd have liked it a whole lot more. But having spent 10 years on active duty in the Army, there were two things about this movie that spoiled for me most of the enjoyment I might otherwise have gotten from it:

(1) The Tom Cruise character constantly smarts off to the Demi Moore character. His boss. His superior officer. He's a lowly Lieutenant, she's a Lieutenant Commander. In other words, he's a company grade officer; she's a field grade officer. This is a big deal in the military. My experience dealing with women of rank in the military is that, having invaded and excelled in a male dominated field of endeavor, they tend to be very concerned the men under their command won't respect them. Therefore, they DEMAND you respect them. But every time Moore tells Cruise to do something he ignores her, every time she gives him an order he has some smartass comeback and he refuses. And she just takes it. No woman who'd risen to the rank of Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy could be such a milquetoast. Forget for a moment she's a woman. ANY officer worth their salt would have yanked Cruise bald the first time he lipped off. Metaphorically speaking (probably).

Finally, he pops off to her in front of the Nicholson character, who says to him, "You know, I just realized something. She outranks you." At which point, sitting there in the darkened theatre, I muttered to myself, "Thank God someone in this movie finally noticed that."

(2) The entire premise of the movie is bogus. Okay, two young Marines have beaten a fellow Marine, and because of a previously undetected medical problem he dies. So far so good. BUT the Cruise character, a JAG officer of years of experience, believes that if he can prove they were ordered to beat the dead Marine, they'll be let off. Because they were only following orders. Which is what soldiers/Marines are supposed to do, right? And Moore, with even greater experience than he, agrees. So we've got Tom Cruise, working and slaving and agonizing over how he's going to prove Kiefer Sutherland ordered these two Marines to beat another Marine, and that Jack Nicholson knew about it.

Uno-teeny-tiny problemo. According to military law, no military member has a duty to obey an unlawful order. On my first day in Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, they taught us that "I was just following orders" is not a valid defense if you break military law, that being ordered to break the law does not relieve you of the moral and intellectual responsibility to realize what you're being told to do is wrong, and refuse to do it. As a matter of fact, one of the first things literally they taught me in the Army was how to refuse an illegal order without being insubordinate. But Cruise who should know better figures if he can prove these guys WERE ordered to commit the actions that resulted in manslaughter he can skate them free. In the real world, any JAG officer with two brain cells to rub together knows that's not the case. Realistically, at most, he can take Sutherland and Nicholson down with them, for their part in the crime, but there's no way on God's green earth his clients aren't going to be convicted. But he doesn't realize that. And he should.

This was obviously a movie written and directed by people who've never been in the military, who don't understand how the military, and military law, works. This is a fatal flaw in a movie dealing with the military, and military law. They believe that soldiers/Marines are dogged robots who just mindlessly follow orders. And if you can prove they were following orders, they can't be held accountable for their actions. False. I've heard the attitude that the end of this movie, when the two Marines are convicted and sentenced for their actions, is a horrible, horrible thing. It's not. It's what would have happened in a real military trial. At least they got that much right.

On the other hand, Jack Nicholson as a hardcore Marine full bird Colonel (talk about casting against type) is worth two stars all on his own.

Read Best Reviews of A Few Good Men (1992) Here

Director Rob Reiner took Aaron (Sport Night, West Wing) Sorkin's play and made it a taut courtroom drama.

The cast is a whos who are the great talent working today. Other than Nicholson, Cruise and Demi Moore who top line this film. You also have the acting talents of Oscar winner Cuba Gooding jr, Emmy Winner Keifer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, ER's Noah Wyle, Best in Show writer/director Christopher Guest, J.T. Walsh, X-Men James Marshall and Kevin Pollack...A few good men indeed!

Reiner put these pieces of acting talents together and makes this work in this action/adventure.

You can handle the truth!~ IT IS CLASSIC

Bennet Pomerantz AUDIOWORLD

Want A Few Good Men (1992) Discount?

This movie is one amazing piece of work. A Few Good Men leaves you sitting in astonishment, as you can't believe the remarkable movie you just had the absolute pleasure of watching.

I am not a big Tom Cruise fan, but he truly performed on Oscar level in this film. I really enjoyed watching his character mature as the moive progressed. Jack Nicholson was simply "Jack" enough said. This role was seriously made for him. Throw in Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, and an exceptional performance by Kevin Pollack, and you have one blockbuster of a film. Cuba Gooding Jr. and ER's Noah Wiley also had minor roles in this film, and if that wasn't enough, add in the directing genius of Rob Reiner. Need I say more?

The film flowed extremely well, and the acting was far better than superb. The storyline was forever changing, allowing the suspense to be overwhelmingly good. The courtroom scenes, although slightly unbelievable, were so dramatic and enticing that you couldn't help but feel like you were on that jury witnessing all of the theatrics involved.

A Few Good Men will leave you wanting more, and the ending, somewhat unpredictable, will knock you out of your seat. This is one great film, and would make an excellent addition to anyone's film library.

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