A Few Good Men is one of my dad’s favorite films, so I’d seen bits and pieces of it over the years, but never sat down to watch the entire thing. I decided to finally give it a full watch, with dad (and his running commentary), in March.
Written by Aaron Sorkin from his own play, the film tells the story of Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise), a Navy lawyer who is stepping into the courtroom for the first time.
Kaffee has worked plenty of cases, but he’s kind of notorious for working out plea bargains to avoid actually arguing those cases. When called upon to defend two Marines accused of murdering one of their own, he plans to do the usual: work out a plea bargain, regardless of whether the men are actually guilty.
When the aunt of one of the accused asks Cmdr. Galloway (Demi Moore) to represent her nephew, however, Kaffee’s usual tactics are thrown out the window. Galloway becomes convinced the men were ordered to haze the victim by their superior, killing him accidentally. Galloway hopes to convince Kaffee to argue the case, bringing to light the cruel, informal “justice” system covertly used by men like Col. Jessup (Jack Nicholson).
Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland and Cuba Gooding, Jr. — plus direction from Rob Reiner? This film was made by a real ’80s/’90s dream team.
Of the cast, individually I would say Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore stood out most to me. I really loved Moore’s character, with her take-no-crap attitude and her persistence against Kaffee’s initial plan to take the easy way out.
But some of the film’s best scenes involve Cruise and Bacon volleying the argument back and forth, showing one another up in the courtroom. Both actors do great work in these argumentative, tension-filled courtroom scenes. (And speaking of courtroom scenes, that great confrontation in which Jack Nicholson famously shouts “You can’t handle the truth!” lives up to its hype.)
A Few Good Men explores a topic I’m not too familiar with, the justice system within the military, which made it all the more interesting to me. The fascinating subject matter incorporates additional threads including the lack of respect for women in that environment (explored through Moore’s character) and the following of sometimes-dangerous “bro codes.”
The screenplay is what you’d expect if you’ve seen just about anything else from Sorkin: talky and intelligent, with touches of humor.
It’s gripping throughout its run time, both in the investigation/planning of the case and in the courtroom scenes themselves. There’s plenty of drama, and the film has no trouble capturing the viewer’s attention throughout, delivering several twists to the case I wasn’t expecting.
Now that I’ve finally watched it in its entirety, it’s easy to see why A Few Good Men is considered a modern classic military/courtroom drama. I suspect I may have been the last person on Earth to see it, but if I’m wrong and you’ve been living under an adjacent rock, I’d recommend giving it a watch!