The film starts with a dark, brutal scene at Guantanamo Bay, as Private Santiago is assaulted in his room and before you can contemplate what just happened, it transitions to a military fanfare on a beautiful sunny day. This is A Few Good Men, a military courtroom drama where evils are forced to be dismissed for the good of the code: Unit. Corps. God. Country.
Tom Cruise plays Lt. Daniel Kaffee, a serving lawyer appointed to defend the two Privates accused with murdering Private Santiago. He’s cocky, carefree and is just letting his years of service slide by as easily as possible. Rumor is that he’s a good lawyer, but he’s lazy and doesn’t seem to care enough to even visit his clients in jail. That’s why Lt. Cdr. JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore), tags along after she was denied the opportunity to defend the Privates. Without her, many details would’ve been overlooked and Kaffee, who’s never seen the inside of a courtroom, wouldn’t have a chance.
The real enemy (and actor) in this film is Jack Nicholson, playing Col. Nathan R. Jessep. He may or may not have set orders to have Santiago assaulted; he needs to let Cruise stew for a while before cracking. He’s so cocky and badass with just a slight smile and repressed anger within his uniform that he owns Cruise in every scene. Nicholson does not have much screen time, but he is the most memorable character and earns a Supporting Actor nomination. The only acting nomination in the film.
At times, Cruise is just laughable. In a scene where he’s drunk in despair, he starts to rant, in an attempt to be dramatic. I laughed at him, the way he moves and talks too fast made me thing that Cruise could’ve played a less entertaining Ace Ventura. And when Cruise’s daddy issues try to gain sympathy, it just makes him look weaker.
The icing on this bad acting cake came with the line, “You don’t need a patch on your arm to have honor.” Wow, so wise, so inspirational, so corny. This could’ve worked just as well in those sports movies for kids in the early ‘90’s. I can imagine Michael Jordan saying this to Bugs Bunny just after he made the impossible slam dunk in Space Jam.
Bad acting aside, the story is good enough. The tension between lawyers and their stubborn clients is compelling. It’s a good courtroom drama that builds to the end. Pieces are put together in a suspenseful order and it makes sure that Cruise and Moore have bigger obstacles with every court appearance.
Watch A Few Good Men if you are a Nicholson, Cruise or Moore fan. If you enjoy films about the military or courtroom dramas, I also recommend this. And if you want to watch Cruise make a fool of himself, you’re in for a treat.
“I want the truth! You can’t handle the truth!”