‘A Few Good Men’ – ’92 Cinema Revue

A Few Good Men – #1 in the U.S. (Dec. 18-20)

All-Time Domestic $141,340,178 | All-Time International $101,900,000
All-Time Worldwide $243,240,178

A Few Good Men is an acting showcase with performances with an A-List cast bringing their A-game.

Courtroom dramas are a dime a dozen. It’s easy to make a courtroom drama engaging, but how do you make it stand out? You could turn it on its head like My Cousin Vinny going the comedy route, twisting the tropes we’ve come to expect. Or you can give the rare military courtroom drama like this film. This is the movie you can blame for JAG running for ages on CBS. This is a winner with a well-known director in Rob Reiner, a stacked A-list roster that reads like the acting version of the Dream Team, and a new script from Aaron Sorkin based on his own play. 

After the death of Marine PFC William Santiago due to a hazing incident at Guantanamo Bay, Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) is tasked by Lieutenant Commander Joanna Galloway (Demi Moore) of JAG Corps to investigate the circumstances of his murder while defending two Marines behind the hazing. Unfortunately, their investigation puts them in the crosshairs of Marine Colonel Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) and his staff, who claim to have ordered a transfer for Santiago to make him as they see fit. What results is a legal battle to find the truth, with Kaffee going toe-to-toe with a friend, Captain Jack Ross (Kevin Bacon), defending the honor of Jessup on behalf of the government, even if they may not handle it.

A Few Good Men is an acting showcase with performances with an A-List cast bringing their A-game. There is no slouching in his movie when it comes to acting. Everyone across the board does a phenomenal job. 

Cruise as Kaffee proves he can command a screen with his excellent boy looks and charm. Yet, as Kaffee, we see him go through his doubts, insecurities, and failings. Think of it as a preview of his performance in Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire. While he is not a down-and-out loser, he has an air of arrogance. When Cruise is at his best, though is making Kaffee the brilliant, outstanding lawyer he is. Of course, this is helped by Demi Moore and Kevin Pollak as his support team. They bounce so well off one another that it is almost a shame they do not re-team later in Cruise’s career. Moore is fantastic being a non-nonsense legal council, and Pollak, as Sam Weinberg, delivers moments of levity that never deter from the task. Cruise has always had the acting chops behind his star power, and both shine brightly in this film.

Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise), Joanne Galloway (Demi Moore), and Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak) defend two Marines charged with the death of Private William Santiago. Source: Columbia Pictures

Nicholson is the one brutal son-of-a-bitch in his performance. He only appears about three to four times in the film, but when he does, Nicholson does not come for a paycheck; he comes to play. He evokes the military hard-ass as an antagonistic “live by the code, die by the code” colonel. His iconic yell of “You can’t handle the truth” and what follows after has him trying to keep a hard edge while still folding like a pancake in a balancing act I’ve never seen before. Nicholson against Cruise is a battle worth seeing the film alone for because he shows that Jessup thinks nothing of Kaffee, even making a homophobic remark at him. It’s one of his finest roles though brief, but how he commands himself in that brevity is phenomenal.

As for the writing and the directing, this film was based on a play. Nothing visually evokes stellar cinematography or moments except the unexpected death of a character in the movie that is heart-wrenching in how it is present. This is a film version of a play with a higher budget and shot in actual locations, but most of it is set in a courtroom. Reiner directs his actors spectacularly, as mentioned, as a follow-up to the spectacular Misery; this is another great film on his resume. 

Colonel Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) unleashes his fury and anger in the courtroom.
Source: Columbia Pictures

The writing is sharp, fast, and quick-witted, which is par for the course for Sorkin (save for Studio 60 and The Newsroom). Sometimes, Sorkin is hit-and-miss, but when he hits, he usually strikes gold. This is the same as he creates an engaging legal drama that is always exciting. The mystery is a bummer to not play along with, as most thrillers and dramas rely heavily on us connecting the dots through the investigation. While the reveal can lead some to be shaken, it’s a foregone conclusion, and it doesn’t help that that conclusion has been parodied for three decades. However, it is done in a way that would make Columbo happy as we, the audience, have it figured out for the most part, but we want to see how Kaffee and his squad take down the culprits behind Santiago’s death. It’s a minor slight against the film but does not make the movie any lesser.

A Few Good Men is more than a good movie; it’s a tremendous legal drama that does not overstay its welcome. It’s elevated by the talent involved in the film and the carefully crafted writing of Sorkin. I am not the biggest courtroom drama fan, and I even found myself thoroughly entertained.

Revue Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Next time…

Scrooge: “Say boy!? What film is next?”

Orphan Boy: “Why, it’ll be Christmas Eve for the next review, sir.”

Scrooge: “Why don’t you go out to town a grab me a copy of The Muppet Christmas Carol, the biggest copy they have!”

Orphan Boy: “They have the full-length version now on Disney+!”

Scrooge: “Well then, fetch me a subscription and we’ll review it!”

Just in time for the holidays, the penultimate review: The Muppet Christmas Carol.

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