A Few Good Men (1992)
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Director: Rob Reiner
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Pollak
A Few Good Men had all the makings to be a masterpiece at the time of its release with Tom Cruise a young and upcoming star up against the legendary Jack Nicholson who was at that time the “King of Hollywood”. With the beautiful Demi Moore by his side the movie immediately became a must watch for me based on the star cast alone. The movie is good as it builds up steadily to that one scene but gives up right before it delivers the knockout punch.
A Few Good Men is a courtroom drama and is a thriller up to some point. Yes, its the kind of movie which gives away the plot before it happens and thus takes away the cherry from the cake. But its still an awesome watch because all the actors have given memorable performances. It has one scene, the showdown which is still studied in many acting classes, the dialogues of which are still used in common parlance.
Two US Marines Harold Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) and Louden Downey (James Marshall) are facing court martial accused of killing a fellow Marine Private William Santiago at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. But a probing naval investigator Lieutenant Commander Joanne Galloway (Demi Moore) suspects there is more to it and volunteers to investigate. But the case is transferred to Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) by her superiors because they view him as incompetent and prone to settling out of court. Daniel and Joanne together start their investigation defending the two marines and soon realize that the involvement may be going all the way up to the top. The defense argues that the marines were merely following orders and the real culprit is Colonel Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson). He was the one in charge of the Naval Base and he had in fact given the orders of Code Red. Code Red is an informal punishment meted out to Santiago as he had poor relations and had frequently failed to respect chain of command.
The case is very weak as there is literally no evidence- the punishment is not prescribed in any book and also for the fact that the two marines are bound by strict marine code and would be willing to lay their lives than talk. So when there are no witnesses or evidences and everything is stacked against him, Daniel decides to go Poker and decides to play the man. But this is where the movie falls apart (at least for me)- in the scene preceding to the showdown Daniel lays out to the plan to trap Jessup which robs the brilliant surprise it would have been- unfolding like a game of Poker. The movie from there on relies only on the actor’s brilliance and the sheer intensity of that scene.
Tom Cruise has played out his part of a lawyer living in the shadow of his father who incidentally was a lawyer too albeit a great one. His character turns around from irresponsible and uninterested to involved and invested. Demi Moore plays her part to perfection- determined and focused, her character’s main job is bringing Daniel back to track. The movie is unconventional for the fact that there is no romance between Tom Cruise and Demi Moore. I wanted to see the chemistry between the two of the most good looking actors in Hollywood of the time and I think we are all robbed of that opportunity.
A Few Good Men has tense and memorable scenes mostly those involving Jack Nicholson who plays a hard colonel with a huge ego. A man who is proud of himself and an arrogant bulldog who wouldn’t care about nothing and would pass comments of sexual nature without flinching. He is the kind of guy who believes that travelling to the court is a waste of time as he has a bigger issues like the national security to deal with.
The movie is worth a watch even today (more than 25 years after its release) for pizzazz and acting chops of Jack Nicholson.