A Few Good Men (1992)
February 12, 2018 6:40 PM - Subscribe

Truth, not handled.

WaPo: "A Few Good Men" is a brass-buttoned, square-jawed huzzah for military justice that's thankfully free of the messy moralizing of the Vietnam age. An energetic adaptation of the Broadway play, this riveting court-martial drama looks at the eternal conflict between a civilization and the barbarity inherent in its defense. Essentially it is "The Caine Mutiny" in dry dock with Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise going macho a macho.

Entertainment Weekly: Directed by Rob Reiner, from Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of his hit Broadway play, A Few Good Men is a thrillingly effective crowd pleaser. Like all courtroom dramas, it’s gimmicky and, on some essential level, synthetic. It’s really an elaborate piece of construction, with too many links to earlier Cruise vehicles (the business with Kaffee living in the shadow of his deceased lawyer father is just leftover Top Gun). Yet when a courtroom drama has been made with this much skill and star power, it’s an irresistible throwback to the sort of sharp-edged entertainment Hollywood once provided with regularity (and, these days, has just forgotten how to make).

NYTimes: Mr. Nicholson doesn't steal the film, which would mean that he somehow separates himself from everybody else in it. Rather, in the course of only a handful of scenes, he seems to suffuse the entire production, giving it a weight, density and point that might not otherwise be apparent.

LATimes: While watching Nicholson and Cruise chew on each other and gnaw on the scenery is quite a treat, everything in "A Few Good Men" doesn't work as efficiently as their performances. The film's plot, taken from Sorkin's long-running Broadway play, is more contrived than creditable, motivations are not always clear, and some characters, for instance Kiefer Sutherland as a praise the lord and pass the ammunition Marine, are not very convincingly acted.

Roger Ebert: What happens is that the movie brings us to the brink of a courtroom breakthrough, and then we get the scene that undermines everything, as Cruise explains to his friends what he hopes to do, how he hopes to do it, and how he thinks it will work. When Nicholson's big courtroom scene develops, we realize with sinking heart that it is following the movie's scenario. That robs us of pleasure two ways: (1) We are not allowed the pleasure of discovering Cruise's strategy for ourselves, and (2) Nicholson's behavior seems scripted and inevitable, and is robbed of shock value.

The movie is reduced then, to a lesser pleasure, that of watching good actors do good work. Nicholson is always fun to watch, as he barks and snarls and improvises new obscenities. Cruise is an effective contrast, as the immature young officer who discovers himself. Bodison, the stubborn defendant, gives the most interesting performance in the movie, because we can see the battle going on inside and the movie allows it to happen almost as a separate scenario. But the movie doesn't quite make it, because it never convinces us that the drama is happening while we watch it; it's like the defense team sneaked an advance look at the script.


Kevin Pollack can handle the truth about A Few Good Men

Courtroom showdown
posted by MoonOrb (17 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Demi Moore's last good role?
posted by Chrysostom at 7:29 PM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Another great post, MoonOrb. In a lot of cases, reading about this stuff has proven more fun than the original films. ;)

This one takes me back in particular. During my brief and ill-fated stint in Basic, our first real day off featured a trip to a break room and a choice between watching A Few Good Men and The Lion King... and that's how I spent my first day of R&R in the Army watching a movie about the Marines.

That, my fellow Mefites, was truly a double-facepalm afternoon. Also, I thinks this marks my first real experience with Aaron Sorkin, whose work I could rarely get past 'sit through in quiet dissatisfaction.'
posted by mordax at 7:43 PM on February 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

Chrysostom, as I was reading the post I was trying to remember what Demi Moore did after this film. So I checked IMDB and the answer appears to be a fair amount, but nothing really stands out to me (in terms of oh, yeah, that was notable) beyond GI Jane and Striptease, both of which at least had lots of promotion if not being good films (I don't think I've seen either).

Anyways, I remember this film more for certain scenes than for being a good story, which maybe says what needs to be said about it.
posted by nubs at 7:53 PM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Notable for standout product placement by Yoohoo.
posted by LionIndex at 7:54 PM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Demi Moore's last good role?

What was her first good role?
posted by MoonOrb at 8:42 PM on February 12, 2018

What was her first good role?

The Master?
posted by valkane at 9:20 PM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

She was memorable in St. Elmo's Fire, for good or ill.
posted by Chrysostom at 4:27 AM on February 13, 2018

Not unlike Wall Street, I feel like this film's greatest legacy has been people taking the villain's big monologue out of its context and unironically adopting it as their worldview.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:55 AM on February 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

"I deride your truth-handling abilities!" - Sideshow Bob
posted by Mogur at 9:02 AM on February 13, 2018 [9 favorites]

"Son, we live in a world that has movies, and those movies have to cast people with acting chops. Who's going to do it? You? You, Tom Cruise? I have a great responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Moore, and you curse the writers. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know - that this script, while tragic, probably saved jobs, and my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves movies."

Some trivia about the film:

-Demi Moore was 8 months pregnant when she auditioned for the part, and was cast over Linda Hamilton and Jodie Foster.
-Jason Alexander was going to play Sam Weinberg, but had to drop out when Seinfeld got renewed for a second season.
-Nicholson worked 10.5 days on the film. He did the courtroom speech 40-50 times, including for shots that were only to get the reactions of Cruise, Moore, Pollack, and Bacon.
-Sorkin was asked why Moore was cast for Galloway if she wasn't going to sleep with Cruise's character. Sorkin replied that women have other purposes than sleeping with Cruise.
posted by nubs at 9:34 AM on February 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

-Nicholson worked 10.5 days on the film. He did the courtroom speech 40-50 times, including for shots that were only to get the reactions of Cruise, Moore, Pollack, and Bacon.

You know that thing, where you say 'elephant' over and over again, and it loses all meaning? Now imagine that, only you have to also have to have an emotional breakdown, over and over again, while saying it. Do the emotions, themselves, lose all meaning? Do you find yourself, after 30 or 40 takes, floating off from reality, the angry curses coming from you like hiccups?

Oof, I can't imagine what that must be like. How exhausting.
posted by meese at 11:47 AM on February 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

How exhausting.

Semantic satiation!

I saw this after I saw The General's Daughter, which stole some thematic thunder from this movie, not to mention I think I saw the second half before the first. Similarly, I saw this before I watched Twin Peaks, which stole some of James Marshall's impact in that series. I guess there's just a chain of injuries emanating from this movie; I thought this would have been the movie that stole Kevin Pollak from stand-up (mostly), but I see that it was his like 9th role. Anyway, it's perfectly cast, it has a near-Witness-for-The-Prosecution climax, and the script gets the benefit of Sorkin still being hungry.
posted by rhizome at 2:46 PM on February 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

-Sorkin was asked why Moore was cast for Galloway if she wasn't going to sleep with Cruise's character. Sorkin replied that women have other purposes than sleeping with Cruise.

That was one of the things that impressed me the most about the movie: I am not sure I had ever before seen a big Hollywood movie where two very pretty and orientation-compatible lead characters do not make out or at least flirt. That was surprising in 1992. (I have seen the stage play since and Kaffee and Galloway's strategy session at the oyster restaurant was framed a bit more like date. I have never read the script so I dunno if the easing off in the movie was due to Sorkin or Reiner.)
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:08 PM on February 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

Have either of them had a make out scene in one of their movies? A quick scan of IMDB suggests possibly nothing bluer than When Harry Met Sally and An American President.
posted by rhizome at 7:13 PM on February 14, 2018

Not explicitly with tangled sheets and pelvic thrusts and all, but it seems to me that we do see Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts getting post-coitally dressed in Charlie Wilson's War. I then went on to look at Reiner's directorial credits on IMDb but got all distracted by the realization that he has apparently made eleven features since The American President and I have seen none of them. Weird. A Few Good Men was his fifth movie in a run that included This is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, When Harry Met Sally, and Misery. That is more solid middlebrow stuff than most people can produce in a full career.

Anyway, maybe "hook up" is a more apropos term than "make out."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:58 AM on February 15, 2018

I think it's more that both of them are unlikely to portray any romantic scenes that don't directly relate to the main plot.
posted by rhizome at 10:17 AM on February 15, 2018

This is one of those movies which, should I run across it when channel surfing, compels me to watch it to the end. Also, the source material provides a great theater memory: I saw a community theater production in which the director created forced perspective magnificently by placing a scaled-down guard tower -- manned by silhouetted kids in uniform -- upstage. It worked.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 2:29 PM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

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