For the next review today of A Few Good Men (1992), take a look at what Steven of Past Present Future TV and Film has to say about it.
Few films that are so well known, for various reasons, are able to be just as exciting, engrossing, and entertaining as the first time you saw them. More likely than not it’s because you are able to remember every detail of the film, and nothing can really come at you and surprise you the way it did before.
The Columbia Pictures film “A Few Good Men”, has done something that rarely happens when watching a film again. It kept me glued on the action, dreading the outcome, solely on the off chance it doesn’t turn out the way I hoped.
This legal drama stars Tom Cruise (upcoming “Mission: Impossible 5”, “Edge of Tomorrow”), Jack Nicholson (“How Do You Know”, “The Bucket List”), Demi Moore (“Very Good Girls”, “LOL”), Kevin Bacon (“The Following”, “R.I.P.D.”), Kevin Pollack (“Mom”, “The One I Wrote for You”), James Marshall (“The Cursed”, “In the Eyes of a Killer”), J.T. Walsh (“Hidden Agenda”, “Hope”), and Keifer Sutherland (“24: Live Another Day”, “Pompeii”).
The film was directed by Rob Reiner (“Flipped”, “The Bucket List”) and written by Aaron Sorkin (upcoming “Steve Jobs”, “The Newsroom”). It is based on the Sorkin’s play of the same name.
The film originally opened on Dec. 11, 1992. The film would go on to be nominated for four Academy Awards and five Golden Globe awards among several other nominations and wins.
The only thing I knew for sure, was I was going to enjoy watching this film again. I’ve seen just about everything the writer of this film has had a hand in doing, mainly through writing, plus I enjoy the actors that are in it. But as this is my second time seeing this film, I operated under the assumption that this would be a film I’d merely sort of watch. The details were still fresh enough in my mind that paying absolute attention really didn’t seem all that needed. Little did I know that I could find a new way to immerse myself in this film and become so taken by everything that was happening. I think this made for an improved viewing experience.
This is a legal drama. A courtroom drama. What’s not to like about a movie like this? If we’re willing to sit for hours, either week to week or through binge watching episodes of courtroom/legal shows, why wouldn’t you be able to find yourself, or think of yourself, as able to sit and watch this film? This aspect of the film should be all the incentive one needs to watch this film.
While this is a certainly a legal thriller, the film doesn’t really spend that much time in the courtroom. This is a film that’s over two hours long, and probably spends a total of 30 minutes dealing in courtroom action. I’m just picking a number that sounds good. But even so, it’s some of the most captivating material in this whole film. I think my excitement level went up just seeing the courtroom set, knowing that any second, some serious back and forth of words were soon to be exchanged.
I was incredibly surprised, when during one of these scenes, I was sitting there holding my breath. I found myself so caught up in what was happening that I was anxious about what was going to be discovered. The only problem was I already know what the outcome would be.
That particular scene was the final courtroom examination with Nicholson’s character. It was incredible! Intense and utterly captivating! I could go on, but you get the picture.
That’s how engaging this film is. Even “Judgement at Nuremberg”, a different kind of courtroom drama, was absolutely interesting at different times. I’m not sure if this says more about the way in which writers are able to spice up these particular legal proceedings, which I’ve heard time and again, are really dull when seen in real life, or if it says more about what audiences love to see when it comes to visual entertainment. Either way, in this case at least, it’s definitely the writing that’s responsible for my inability to look away.
Sorkin is a master at creating a story and a genius when it comes to crafting dialogue. I really cannot say it enough. While most of these sentiments come after the fact (as I’d first been exposed to his later work), before seeing this or “The American President”, you can clearly see that even with these early projects of his, he knew what he was doing. Now-a-days, when watching something of Sorkin’s, it’s easy to spot what’s now considered a trademark for him. Monologues. He loves to write a monologue. They’re usually meant to be impactful, and they are, for the moment they push the plot forward, but here they’re filled with some powerful statements. Not just in monologues, but general dialogue. Powerful statements were made left and right by various characters.
Dialogue is also, of course, smart, funny, and clever. It’s also delivered at an incredibly fast pace. This is also partly to blame for why I got so easily sucked in. If you begin to tune something out, even if you think that a moment will be fine, chances are you’ll miss a whole string of information or points being made, and have no idea what’s happening. Normally this would be fine, but at some point you’ll discover, you don’t have the full picture. I dare say, that I myself had to rewind a few times as I did this, and had no clue what was being talked about. There was also the occasional obscure pop culture reference that made an appearance. You can’t go wrong with an obscure pop culture reference.
Another thing that is easily picked up on, at least I have, especially since Sorkin’s notoriety has increased in the last 23 years, is familiar lines of dialogue. Again, most of this is in retrospect, but it’s still interesting and funny. Being able to pick up on lines of dialogue you know you’ve heard elsewhere, should be turned into a drinking game. I call it reusing, some call it plagiarizing. In any other circumstance, yes, this would be, but he wrote it. He himself, on numerous occasions, has admitted to reusing dialogue. One such line, which also serves as a way of demonstrating the talent Sorkin has for incorporating humor into dramatic moments (lesser or heavier dramatic moments alike), is when Cruise says, “Ordinarily it takes someone hours to discover I’m not fit to handle a defense.”
The characters are each well defined and brought to life so well by a talented group of actors, that it makes me wish they’d be given more roles that actually showcase their talents. I was seriously reminded that Cruise could actually act.
Cruise’s character is a little bit of a jackass. He delights too much in being this quick and not so serious person, that at some point Moore asks him if he’s going to take the case seriously. At the same time, however, you can’t help but love that Cruise’s character is surprisingly passionate about what he does. Sure he’s got his cocky side, but when it comes down to it, he’s willing to go out of his way and prove his worth. At various points you can see his character in serious doubt about information given him by other people. It’s subtle and quick, but very effective, not to mention important to his character and the story as a whole. There’s a few instances for him, where you get information about him, but mainly any backstory on him is nowhere to be found. It’s all about who he is in the moment and how he responds to those he must encounter for the job.
Moore’s character is also lacking any real character insight. However, as this isn’t exactly a character driven movie, it’s okay. It’s also okay because what she brings, as do the others, is something far more compelling. Her character seems to be the smartest person in the room. While everyone, clearly, is really smart, she just doesn’t take the information given to her as being one hundred percent correct and final. As we see, she quickly picks up on the fact that something seems off. She know’s there’s more, and thus, not some open and shut case as others would have her believe. This is all brought on by the driven nature of the character. She’s willing to stand up to people, even when they say there’s no chance she’ll win, and prove them wrong. She’s a dog with a bone. She’s got such a passion for her job, that that is what makes her so interesting to watch, along with the others.
Then there’s Nicholson. He’s scary. I think this are two reasons for this. The character itself and Nicholson in general. His features and ability to have certain expressions just suit this character really well. I’m also not sure if it’s Nicholson himself or somehow the power of his character, but I find there to be a high level of charisma. Certainly something that makes him well worth watching. He could read a children’s book and I’d not want to turn my gaze elsewhere. I can’t stop watching him, even at his worse (he’s pretty despicable), he’s so fascinating. There’s also the fact that Nicholson’s character is such an asshole. Sure he’s a high ranking officer, but still. I guess that’s just how writers see some people in places of power. Hell, for all we know, this is how people like Nicholson’s character really do act. It does go above that of demanding and deserving respect. In watching whatever encounters he had, with any character really, I was equal parts mesmerized and terrified. This allowed me to be so wrapped up in what was occurring, and feel similar things as Cruise and company readied their case for court. I think Nicholson’s character could give Gene Hackman’s in “Runaway Jury”, a run for his money.
My only issue, that I can think of, was merely just how something began. A completely different scene that seemed to come out of nowhere. The scene itself was absolutely fine, in all aspects, but when it began, I had to stop. I couldn’t place it in the timeline. If there were any markers (the idiot ones used to tell you when something takes place, because audiences are too stupid), then I missed them. After listening to Nicholson and Sutherland (primarily), talk about what to do about a lower ranking officer (the victim at the center of the film), I was able to establish what was happening. However, I still have one question regarding this scene. Why place it where it was placed? It just seemed to be an added scene, and not from a flashback, see visual details of the story I’m narrating to you, but something to let you chew over along with the information that was being relayed to you later on. It was with this scene, I was able to perfectly see how the film would end, and who was at fault in this whole thing. In retrospect I should’ve seen this as a clue, but I didn’t. I guess it’s what made watching this again even more exhilarating than before. Seeing the truth, but having to wait and see how other events unfolded before that truth was finally uncovered.
If this film doesn’t serve as a reason to love owning a particular title, or just renting it again because you want to see if it moves you the same way, then I’m sure it’ll be pretty tough to find another. Some films are just fun, enjoyable, and somewhat memorable, which is fine. That’s the nature of film. But others, like this one, just have a particular kind of hold and power over you. Everything about it is that strong, that you can really appreciate this medium even more. No matter how many times, or how long the gap is between viewings, you can still be moved and invested as if it were the first time.
If by chance you need a refresher, or haven’t seen it, here’s a trailer: