johnlink ranks A FEW GOOD MEN (1992)

I’ve mentioned wanting to get certain favorites ranked as I close in on 400 movies for this site. A FEW GOOD MEN is certainly part of that effort. This is a movie I watched many, many times while in high school, and which I’ve always held up as one of the top courtroom films. And consider this last sentence the only acknowledgment of this article in which I lament for simpler days when Tom Cruise wasn’t crazy.

I watched A FEW GOOD MEN (1992) on 6.18.12. I’ve seen this movie at least twenty times, though this was the first viewing in a half-dozen years or so.

In an effort to watch this somewhat objectively, I can see a few cracks in between the tectonic plates of greatness this movie provides. But these flaws are few and far between.

As a matter of refreshing, (because you must have seen this, right?) this films follows Kaffee (Tom Cruise), a JAG lawyer reluctantly defending two Marines from Guantanamo Bay who killed a fellow marine. It is clear that they were ordered to perform an illegal ‘Code Red’ as a means of training the victim by their commanding officers, Kendrick (Jack Bauer) and Jessup (Jack Nicholson). That the poor kid died was an accident, but the film centers around the question of where blame belongs, and if it is even possible to prove what really happened.

This has a long list of stars. I already mentioned Cruise, Sutherland, and Nicholson. This also features Demi Moore in one of her best roles, Kevin Pollak (more on him soon), Kevin Bacon, the late great JT Walsh, Xander Berkeley, Cuba Gooding a few years before he broke out, Noah Wyle before he made a name for himself on ER, and Christopher Guest five years after he had six finger on his right hand.

The acting is at a high level. Nicholson appears in four scenes as Colonel Jessup, but each leaves at least one great moment. His first scene involves the ‘transfer the company’ rant, the second has a great deadpan “Well aren’t I the fuckin’ asshole”, the third features him talking about being inappropriate with a superior female officer, and the final scene has the famous “You can’t handle the truth.” Nicholson isn’t in this for long, but it will always be one of his most memorable roles.

Cruise doesn’t have to stretch too much. He’s cocky, arrogant, and talented. They should have called his character Thom Cruz. Demi Moore and Kevin Bacon both give solid performances as well, providing necessary balance to the eccentricity lent by Nicholson and Cruise.

Kiefer’s Kendrick, it pains me to say, is possibly the weak link of the film. His acting is good, he creates a loathable character. Really, it is the writing which is one-dimensional in making this high-ranking officer a complete prick. There isn’t much nuance in a character who could have been written to be more conflicted. Markinson (JT Walsh) is the emotional angle on Jessup’s right shoulder, and Kendrick is the villainous devil on the other. Of course, Markinson ends up killing himself, so we know how that battle plays out. I just think there could have been more nuance in the creation of this triangle so that the military isn’t painted as this cruel breeding ground of resentment and hatred. What happens is tragic, but one of the small flaws I previously mentioned rears its head in the film’s inability to consider the enormous challenge the higher-ups in Cuba face. Their words work to make them more evil, even as they attempt to speak unfiltered truth.

On the other hand, Kevin Pollak’s Sam is vital. He is Kaffee’s de facto assistant in the film. He believes the Marines’ story yet still believes they deserve to go to jail. He is supposed to be the point of view of the audience, allowing us to forgive the Marines as he learns to respect them. The film is working hard on convincing that already, so his impact is lessened in that regard. However, his balance and chemistry with Cruise is the life blood of A FEW GOOD MEN. It provides a buddy aspect which lightens considerably the heavier themes of the film. One of the great surprises to someone who comes to this movie for the first time is just how funny it is. Much of that can be contributed to Pollak and Cruise.

Cruise really does run the film. He isn’t asked to stretch, but he is asked to drive. He is always doing something to make the scene land harder, whether being asked to be funny, intense, unpredictable, or whatever it may be. He is so likable, which is very important for a character who is written to be so damn cocky.

Rob Reiner is one of the great Get-Out-Of-The-Way directors. He takes great scripts and turns them into eminently watchable films. His hand is certainly not heavy, as he doesn’t shoot the hell out of his movies. Everything is laid out clearly, everything is easily seen, no trickery needed. This is by no means a knock, though he doesn’t have the filmmaking skill of some of his contemporaries, he is one of the best at getting great work out of actors. This film was fifth in a string of films that went STAND BY ME, PRINCESS BRIDE, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, MISERY, and then A FEW GOOD MEN. Not many directors in history have had that kind of run.

Aaron Sorkin’s script is mostly great. It has some flaws, which I have mentioned, but the dialogue is absolute top-notch. One or two moments may have been overwritten, and there is no denying that he ignores courtroom reality, but all of that makes for a better movie experience. The structure of the script (as well as Reiner’s control over it) make for one of the most quickly paced dramas I can remember. This is a 140 minute movie which feels like it runs less than 90.

I came to this as objectively as possible, and found that doing so did not lessen my enjoyment of it in the slightest. Sure, some of the themes don’t land like they could, but this is just an absolute joy to watch.






~ by johnlink00 on June 19, 2012.

One Response to “johnlink ranks A FEW GOOD MEN (1992)”

  1. […] DOGS, the classic RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARC, an old favorite CITY SLICKERS, vintage Cruise in A FEW GOOD MEN, a great cat-and-mouse story CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, the best of the series in HARRY POTTER AND THE […]

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