Aaron Sorkin pens the screenplay for Rob Reiner’s A Few Good Men from his stageplay of the same name, and like the best of Sorkin’s writing, the film draws an amazing wealth of talent.
When a Marine dies during an off the book disciplinary action while serving at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, the JAG corp becomes involved when it appears two Marines, Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) and Downey (James Marshall) are responsible for the man’s death. Commander JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) wants the case, but it’s handed to a JAG naval officer who has only been a lawyer for a short time, Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise).
He and Lt. Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak) are assigned to the case, and Galloway works to get herself assigned as co-counsel. As the trio investigate they encounter the fanaticism of Marine life in their dealings with Lt. Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland), the men’s unit leader as well as the base’s commanding officer, Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson).
What follows is a court room drama that still resonates, and has a profound impact on the viewer. And as I’ve grown over the years, I’ve realised that its not as cut and dry, and right and wrong as I first believed as a younger viewer. There are nuances to the story, there’s a reason why the Marines are the way they are, and I see both sides of the argument.
Reiner is an exceptional director, and working with a screenplay by Sorkin had to be a gift. And then he goes and stacks the film with an all star cast, including Kevin Bacon, Cuba Gooding Jr, Xander Berkley, JT Walsh, Matt Craven, and Christoper Guest.
The film crackles with its performances and its dialogue, is endlessly quotable, and still engages each time I watch it.
Cruise is perfect as the cocky lawyer who allows himself to be pushed into a courtroom for a case that was never supposed to go that far. Everyone in the film is a firebrand, bringing their A game and delivering high calibre performances.
The film earned itself four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, but walked away empty handed. But it remains one of the most powerful courtroom dramas put to film. Yes, everyone wanders around now yelling ‘You can’t handle the truth!’ but that doesn’t change the impact of the film’s passionate climax when that line is actually delivered.
Crisp, engaging, razor sharp and a powerful watch, A Few Good Men is one of my favourite films and probably my favourite courtroom movie, and launched me on a quest to soak up Sorkin’s writing.