After an incompetent Marine is murdered at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, underachieving Navy lawyer Daniel Kaffee (Cruise) is assigned to defend the two Marines accused. Initially going through the motions, the talented-but-inexperienced Kaffee is goaded into taking the case seriously by fellow Naval investigator JoAnne Galloway (Moore). Discovering that the murder was a “code red” punishment – where Marines are unofficially ordered to violently punish others for ineptitude – Kaffee follows the cover-up to the commanding officer, Lieutenant Kendrick (Sutherland), and his powerful base commander, Colonel Jessep (Nicholson)…
Despite being known almost exclusively for its iconic and oft-quoted “I want the truth!”… “You can’t handle the truth!” exchange, A Few Good Men is a first-rate courtroom thriller in its own right. Smart, brilliantly-written and increasingly riveting, it’s one of the many highlights on filmmaker Rob Reiner’s classic-studded resume (which includes This is Spinal Tap!, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally), while both Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson deliver powerhouse performances. Interestingly, the latter only appears in a handful of scenes (including a great breakfast meeting where he can’t resist showing his true colours), but the climactic courtroom showdown between him and the Cruiser is worth waiting for. It’s grandstanding, but utterly electric grandstanding.
Looking back though, it’s clear that the movie really belongs to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (who wrote the play this is based on), as fans of The West Wing and such like will recognise his snarky, rapid-fire dialogue and intelligent-yet-goofy characters. Posing some thought-provoking questions (when is it okay to disobey your superiors? Where do you draw the line?), it’s a thinking man’s courtroom drama with a suspenseful whodunit angle as the story twists and turns. In other roles, Kevin Pollak is a stand-out (and a natural fit for Sorkin’s dialogue), Demi Moore is surprisingly impressive (and not a natural fit for Sorkin’s dialogue), while the sensational supporting cast includes Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, J.T. Walsh, Noah Wyle and Cuba Gooding Jr.
Though known almost exclusively for its iconic and oft-quoted “I want the truth!”… “You can’t handle the truth!” exchange, A Few Good Men is a first-rate courtroom thriller in its own right.