A Few Good Men
|A Few Good Men|
Original theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Rob Reiner|
|Produced by||David Brown
|Written by||Aaron Sorkin|
J. T. Walsh
|Music by||Marc Shaiman|
|Editing by||Robert Leighton|
|Studio||Castle Rock Entertainment|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Running time||138 minutes|
A Few Good Men is a 1992 American drama film directed by Rob Reiner and starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, and Demi Moore. It was adapted for the screen by Aaron Sorkin from his play of the same name. A courtroom drama, the film revolves around the court martial of two U.S. Marines charged with the murder of a fellow Marine and the tribulations of their lawyer as he prepares a case to defend his clients.
Lieutenant Junior Grade Daniel "Danny" Kaffee (Tom Cruise) is an inexperienced and unenthusiastic U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps lawyer who leads the defense in the court-martial of two U.S. Marines, Private First Class Louden Downey (James Marshall) and Lance Corporal Harold Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison), who are accused of having murdered a fellow Marine of their unit, PFC William Santiago (Michael DeLorenzo), at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, which is under the command of Colonel Nathan R. Jessup (Jack Nicholson).
Santiago compared unfavorably to his fellow Marines, had poor relations with them, and failed to respect the chain of command. He went above his superiors to bargain for a transfer in exchange for blowing the whistle on Dawson for firing a possibly illegal shot towards the Cuban side of the island. When the transfer request is seen by the base's senior commanders, there is a heated argument between Santiago's commanding officer, 1st Lieutenant Jonathan Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland), who asserts that he can handle the situation, and Jessup's executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Andrew Markinson (J.T. Walsh), who casts doubt on Kendrick's ability based on a past incident. Markinson advocates that Santiago be transferred immediately for safety reasons before the request gets out, but Jessup says that this would set a bad precedent which could cost lives. Jessup also states that officers have a responsibility to ensure that all personnel are trained, so he orders Kendrick to ensure that Santiago shows significant improvement on the next evaluation report, or he would be held personally responsible. When Dawson and Downey are later arrested for Santiago's murder, Naval investigator and lawyer Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) suspects that they were carrying out a "code red": a euphemism for a violent extrajudicial punishment.
Galloway requests to defend them, but the case is instead given to Kaffee, who has a reputation for arranging plea bargains. There is initial friction between them, as she believes he negotiates plea bargains to avoid having to argue in court, and he claims that she is interfering with his handling of the case. However, their relationship strengthens as the trial progresses, as does Kaffee's effectiveness as a lawyer.
Despite goading by Galloway and Dawson to allow the trial to go to court, Kaffee initially tries to step down as lead counsel for the defense – his argument being that since he cannot prove that any order was given for the assault, it would be a futile gesture to make a legal stand that the Marines did as they were told. However, Galloway successfully argues her point of view to Kaffee after Dawson and Downey state they were ordered by Lieutenant Kendrick (under the orders of Jessup) to shave Santiago's head, minutes after Kendrick ordered the platoon not to touch the would-be victim. Santiago actually died from asphyxiation after a rag was shoved into his mouth as a gag.
Kaffee comes to realize that for a legal officer of his limited time and experience to be given such an important case is unusual. He accepts that he was probably assigned to it due to his reputation for plea bargaining. As this would be an indication that someone high up did not want the case to reach court, he changes his mind and agrees to proceed. Kaffee's suspicions are confirmed when he rejects a plea bargain offer from prosecutor Captain Jack Ross (Kevin Bacon) -- a friend of his -- who warns that the government's case against the two Marines is strong and that Kaffee could risk his reputation (including court martial and being discharged from the Navy) for any attempt to smear high-ranking officers in making a futile defense.
In the course of the trial, it is established that "code reds" are standard in Guantanamo Bay as a means of enforcing discipline and getting sloppy Marines to follow procedure. Kaffee especially goes after Kendrick, particularly over the fact that he denied Dawson a promotion after the latter helped out a fellow Marine who was under what could be seen as a "code red".
Lieutenant Colonel Markinson has gone absent without leave since the incident, but he re-surfaces in Kaffee's car during the trial, revealing that Jessup never intended to transfer Santiago off the base as previously claimed but created the transfer orders as part of a cover-up a few days after Santiago's death. Kaffee is unable to find evidence corroborating these claims and announces his intention to have Markinson testify. Rather than publicly dishonor himself and the Marine Corps, Markinson sends a letter to Santiago's parents, blaming his own weakness for the loss of their son, outfits himself in full Dress Blue "A" uniform and commits suicide by shooting himself in the mouth with his service pistol. Without Markinson's crucial testimony, Kaffee believes that the case is lost and returns home after a drunken stupor, having come to regret that he fought the case instead of considering the plea bargain.
It was also found through cross-examination of PFC Downey by Cpt. Ross that Cpl. Dawson had ordered him to perform the Code Red with him after Lt. Kendrick had ordered him to do it, due to him and a driver having to run back to base after his assignment due to a vehicle malfunction and didn't arrive until 15 minutes after the order was given from Kendrick.
Galloway, however, convinces Kaffee to take the great risk of calling Colonel Jessup as a witness. Kaffee initially questions Jessup, contrasting his travel habits versus that of Santiago (who had apparently made no preparations to pack and/or called anyone about leaving the base), in an attempt to argue that the transfer order was never properly conducted. However, Jessup successfully outsmarts Kaffee by saying that he cannot speculate on Santiago's habits, and he becomes particularly disdainful of Kaffee (pointing out dismissively that Kaffee pinned his clients' defense on a phone bill) and the court proceedings.
Kaffee is stumped, but then he manages to unnerve Jessup by pointing out a flaw in his testimony. He had stated that Santiago was due to be transferred off the base for his own safety in case the other Marines sought retribution, but also stated that Marines are honorable men who always follow orders – thus if the other Marines were ordered to leave Santiago alone and always follow orders, then Santiago would have been in no danger whatsoever and would not have to be transferred. Under heavy pressure from Kaffee and unnerved by being caught in one of his own lies, Jessup furiously declares, "You can't handle the truth!" He then dismisses Kaffee as disrespectful of a Marine doing his duty, ultimately confessing that he did order the "code red". As Jessup angrily justifies his actions on the basis of national security, he is arrested by Ross. Ross informs Kaffee that he will now have Kendrick arrested for Santiago's murder.
Soon thereafter, Dawson and Downey are found not guilty regarding Santiago's murder; nonetheless, they are dishonorably discharged for having caused Santiago's death through their "conduct unbecoming a United States Marine." Downey does not understand why they are being given dishonorable discharges, but Dawson accepts the verdict, and explains to Downey that they had failed to stand up for those too weak to stand up for themselves, like Santiago. As the two prepare to leave, Kaffee tells Dawson he does not need a patch on his arm to have honor. Dawson, who had previously been reluctant to respect Kaffee as an officer, barks, "Ten hut! There's an officer on deck!" and salutes Kaffee.
- Tom Cruise as LTJG Daniel Alistair Kaffee, JAGC, USN
- Jack Nicholson as Col Nathan R. Jessup, USMC
- Demi Moore as LCDR JoAnne Galloway, JAGC, USN
- Kevin Bacon as Capt Jack Ross, USMC
- Kiefer Sutherland as 1stLt Jonathan James Kendrick, USMC
- Kevin Pollak as LTJG Sam Weinberg, JAGC, USN
- J.T. Walsh as LtCol Matthew Andrew Markinson, USMC
- James Marshall as PFC Louden Downey, USMC
- Wolfgang Bodison as LCpl Harold W. Dawson, USMC
- J.A. Preston as Judge (Col) Julius Alexander Randolph, USMC
- Matt Craven as LT Dave Spradling, JAGC, USN
- Michael DeLorenzo as PFC William T. Santiago, USMC
- Noah Wyle as Cpl Jeffrey Owen Barnes, USMC
- Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Cpl Carl Edward Hammaker, USMC
- Xander Berkeley as CAPT Whitaker, USN
- Joshua Malina as Jessup's clerk, Tom, USMC
- Christopher Guest as CDR (Dr.) Stone, MC, USN
- Aaron Sorkin as Lawyer bragging in tavern
- John M. Jackson as JAG CAPT West, JAGC, USN
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin got the inspiration to dramatize the source play, a courtroom drama called A Few Good Men, from a phone conversation with his sister Deborah, who had graduated from Boston University Law School and signed up for a 3-year stint with the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps. She was going to Guantanamo Bay to defend a group of Marines who came close to killing a fellow Marine in a hazing ordered by a superior officer. Sorkin took that information and wrote much of his story on cocktail napkins while bartending at the Palace Theatre on Broadway. He and his roommates had purchased a Macintosh 512K so when he returned home he would empty his pockets of the cocktail napkins and type them into the computer, forming a basis from which he wrote many drafts for A Few Good Men.
In 1988 Sorkin sold the film rights for his play A Few Good Men to producer David Brown before it premiered, in a deal reportedly "well into six figures." Brown had read an article in The New York Times about Sorkin's one-act play Hidden in This Picture, and he found out Sorkin also had a play called A Few Good Men, that was having Off-Broadway readings.
Brown was producing a few projects at TriStar Pictures, and he tried to interest them in making A Few Good Men into a film, but his proposal was declined due to the lack of star actor involvement. Brown later got a call from Alan Horn at Castle Rock Entertainment who was anxious to make the film. Rob Reiner, a producing partner at Castle Rock, opted to direct it.
The film had a production budget of $33,000,000.
Nicholson would later comment of the $5 million he received for his role, "It was one of the few times when it was money well spent."
The film starts with a recital of Semper Fidelis by a U.S. Marine Corps marching band, and a Silent Drill (performed by the Texas A&M University Corps of Cadets Fish Drill Team). 
Several former Navy JAG lawyers have been identified as the basis for Tom Cruise's character of Lt. Daniel Kaffee. These include Don Marcari (now an attorney in Virginia), former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, Chris Johnson (now practicing in California) and Walter Bansley III (now practicing in Connecticut.) However in a September 15, 2011 article of The New York Times, Sorkin was quoted saying, “The character of Dan Kaffee in ‘A Few Good Men’ is entirely fictional and was not inspired by any particular individual.”
Awards and honors
Academy Awards nominations
- Best Picture
- Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Jack Nicholson)
- Best Film Editing
- Best Sound Mixing (Kevin O'Connell, Rick Kline and Robert Eber)
Golden Globe nominations
The film was nominated for five Golden Globe Awards:
- Best Motion Picture – Drama
- Best Director (Rob Reiner)
- Best Actor (Tom Cruise)
- Best Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson)
- Best Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin)
AFI 100 Years… series
The film was recognized twice by the AFI 100 Years... series. In 2005, Nicholson's reading of the line "You can't handle the truth!" was voted the twenty-ninth greatest American film quote of all time and in 2008 the film was voted the fifth best Courtroom Drama.
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains:
- Colonel Nathan R. Jessup – Nominated Villain
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- "You can't handle the truth!" – No. 29
- AFI's 10 Top 10 – No. 5 Courtroom Drama
The film opened on December 11, 1992 in 1,925 theaters. It grossed $15,517,468 in its first weekend and was the number one film at the box office for the next 3 weeks. Overall it grossed $141,340,178 in the U.S. and $95,159,822 in International markets, giving a total of $236,500,000.
The film was a big success, both with critics and at the box office. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone magazine said "That the performances are uniformly outstanding is a tribute to Rob Reiner (Misery), who directs with masterly assurance, fusing suspense and character to create a movie that literally vibrates with energy." Richard Schickel in Time magazine called it "an extraordinarily well-made movie, which wastes no words or images in telling a conventional but compelling story." Todd McCarthy in Variety magazine predicted, "The same histrionic fireworks that gripped theater audiences will prove even more compelling to filmgoers due to the star power and dramatic screw-tightening."
- A Few Good Men (1992 – Box Office Mojo)
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- Horn, John (January 1, 1993). "`A Few Good Men' Outpaces 2 Biographic Openings". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 26, 2010.
- Fox, David J. (January 26, 1993). "Weekend Box Office `Aladdin's' Magic Carpet Ride". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 18, 2010.
- "Rotten Tomatoes- A Few Good Men review". Flixster Inc. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
- Schickel, Richard (December 14, 1992). "Close-Order Moral Drill". Time Monday, Dec. 14, 1992 (Time, Inc.). Retrieved June 22, 2011.
- McCarthy, Todd (November 12, 1992). "A Few Good Men- Review". RBI, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. Retrieved June 22, 2011.
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