A Few Good Men (1992)

“You’re not suggesting I back off a material witness?”

“If you think you can’t get him, yeah.”

The feedback from my first post was overwhelmingly positive, though any thoughts on what I actually wrote were completely overshadowed by suggestions about which movie I should take on next.  A Civil Action will just have to wait because 100% of the three people who noticed my link on facebook all want to read about A Few Good Men.  Again, another movie I somehow never saw before, but this time I blame the guys who made the trailer — “You can’t handle the truth!” is one of the most quotable movie spoilers ever, second only to “Screw it, I’m your dad.”

"Screw it, I'm your dad."

The film centers on cocky recent Harvard Law grad Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise).  Working as military defense counsel, Kaffee’s been assigned the case of two Marines accused of killing one of their fellow soldiers.  Kaffee’s been out of school only nine months and has already settled over forty courts-martial, which means (a) he’s not about to make any exceptions, and (b) our military has a higher crime rate than Gotham City.

Granted, this guy's in charge.

But after explaining a ridiculously lenient settlement offer, Kaffee’s gets rejected by his clients, who claim they were following orders and won’t take a lesser punishment because that would somehow mean that they weren’t doing the honorable thing (this whole scene makes less and less sense the more I think about it.)  That and a little ribbing by the female lead convinces Kaffee that he should take this case to trial.  If that doesn’t convince you these Marines are in good hands, nothing will.

Demi Moore plays the part of Lt. Cdr. JoAnne Galloway, Kaffee’s underappreciated, higher-ranking, motivational co-counsel/buffoon.  I don’t know how many people followed the whole Ken Levine Blog-Social Network story, but let’s just say 2010 wasn’t the first time Aaron Sorkin made a movie to the detriment of women suffragists everywhere.  Throughout the film Galloway keeps her team of Kaffee and the older, also lower-ranking, token yid Lt. Weinberg (Kevin Pollak), focused on the case.  She’s constantly looking into Kaffee’s eyes, reminding him of the importance of their work, and then screwing things up at just about every opportunity.

Objection! Those jeans are fabulous!

I want to be clear here: I think women deserve better in this movie.  I’m guessing Sorkin didn’t want to make Galloway appear too strong and risk alienating the military-types at the box office, but I can’t explain why he made the only woman in the story so incredibly incompetent.  Galloway starts bumbling out of the box.  During a pre-trial interview with Kaffee and the antagonist, Col. Nathan R. Jessup (Jack Nicholson), she just can’t resist insinuating that Jessup gave the order that led to the killing.  In so doing, she not only compromises the defense’s investigation, but turns an otherwise cordial breakfast host into one very hostile witness.

Early on in the trial, she objects to the judge overruling her objection.  I’m sure there’s an evidence rule for how to do that somewhere.  I’m also sure its got a footnote that says “Don’t.”  More significantly, her one witness completely falters on the stand because she’s more deeply committed to making sure he feels comfortable than she is to actually investigating his story.

Pictured: marrying up.

But throughout the film, the defense’s greatest obstacle is overcoming the hostility of their clients and witnesses.  A more complex movie would have focused on hostile clients, but I appreciate that Sorkin at least addressed the issue in the intake interview.  Faced for the first time with two defendants about as stubborn (and interesting) as a brick wall, Kaffee reminds them that, regardless of what they believe, he’s their only friend in the courtroom.  It’s effective because this courtroom is different — here, the jurors wear uniforms and it’s a lot easier for the defendants to convince themselves they’re in a safe place.

The real drama, though, comes from the two hostile witnesses: Lt. Kendrick (Keifer Sutherland) and Col. Jessup.  They absolutely despise Cruise’s character.

Though maybe not as much as him.

As model soldiers, they’ve also earned the respect and support of just about everyone in the courtroom.  Common sense says treat them respectfully and elicit whatever useful testimony you can without sinking to their level, or worse, badgering them.  Well, the climactic scene in A Few Good Men doesn’t happen if common sense prevails.  The courtroom is a battlefield — come to fight or don’t come at all.

Summary Judgment: A Few Good Men is as much a military movie as it is a law movie and, consequently, the last five minutes are ridiculously literal.  As usual, Jack Nicholson kicks butt, but he’s only in four scenes, three of which are really quite minor.  Unlike Erin Brockovich, it’s ALWAYS over the top, but it includes a star-studded cast and doesn’t feel all that dated for a law movie from 1992.  I simply can’t wait to see the sequel!

4 Comments

Filed under 1990-99, Criminal Law, Trial

4 responses to “A Few Good Men (1992)

  1. I surely missed a movie that’s probably too long, so don’t get any of this, but I love your pictures. The one with the jeans especially.

  2. Pingback: The Verdict (1982) | The Law Movie Review

  3. J nytes

    Finally saw this movie tonight and I suspect the cruise character’s father would have been proud

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