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A Few Good Men

April 23, 2007

Do words like code, honor and loyalty, really mean something, or are they values which can be compromised in the larger interest? In an increasingly dangerous world, is it possible to fight a battle in a honorable way? Can the rule of the law be bent in the interests of the nation?

No easy answers, but again explored wonderfully in A Few Good Men(1992). A courtroom drama set against a military backdrop, this movie is one of those which has no definite hero and villain. This is one of those movies, which makes you think, and make you ask questions. The movie is set at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base . LtGen Daniel Kafee( Tom Cruise), whose father has been a distinguished Attorney General, has the task of defending two Marines, PFC Louden Downey( James Marshall) and LCpl Harold Dawson( Wolfgang Bodison) accused of the murder of their fellow Marine Pfc William Santiago( Michael De Lorenzo). Santiago has a pretty poor record as a Marine, he suffers from ill health, and is not liked by many in his unit. He tries to bargain for his transfer, even promising to blow the whistle on one of his superiors for “illegal fence shooting”. Col Nathan Jessep( Jack Nicholson) , the base commander, and a powerful Marine officer, who is in line for being the Director of Operations for National Security Council , does a cover up job, of trying to portrary Santiago’s death as an accident.
Kafee leans that he had been choosen for this case, as he has a record of plea bargains, that is settling cases before they actually go to trial. He also becomes involved with Lcdr Jo Ann Malloway( Demi Moore), who initially believes that he does not care about his clients, and tries to settle cases quickly as he cannot argue in court. On his part, Kaffee believes that Jo Ann is simply interfering with the case. However they come together, to uncover the truth. Kafee wants to prove that both the accused had carried out Code Red, which is a form of extra judicial killing, under instructions from higher authorities. Though he suspects Jessep, he is helpless, owing to his influence and power. His attempts to get one of Jessep’s ex subordinate Lt.Col Matthew Markinson , to testify also fails, when Markinson commits suicide. Kafee now has to put Jessep on trial, and face the prosecution lawyer, Capt Jack Ross( Kevin Bacon). Watch the movie to see how Kafee brings out the truth in one of the most brilliantly shot courtroom scenes you would ever see.

Col Nathan Jessep , is a man fanatically devoted to the uniform. But it also shows the dangers of power being concentrated in one person. He doesn’t want to transfer Santiago , as he believes that could be a security risk. He wants to train him, to face the rigors of Marine life, a decision which proves to be fatal. When his subordinate Markinson, tries to question his decision, he sneers at him, saying
“ Sit down, Matthew! We go back a while. We went to the Academy together, we were commissioned together, we did our tours in Vietnam together. But I’ve been promoted up the chain with greater speed and success than you have. Now, if that’s a source of tension or embarrassment for you… I don’t give a shit. We’re in the business of saving lives, Lieutenant Colonel Markinson. Don’t ever question my orders in the presence of another officer. You’re dismissed”.

Jessep tries to appear honorable by his outburst in the now famous “ You cant handle the truth” speech. But it’s obvious, that the way he used his power, his influence to ride roughshod over every one, was going to be the cause of his downfall.

Dawson on the other hand is a marine who strictly believes in the code of honor. When Kaffee offers him a deal to plead for Involuntary manslaughter, he counters him back saying
“Well, what do we do then, sir? We joined the Marines because we wanted to live our lives by a certain code, and we found it in the Corps. Now you’re asking us to sign a piece of paper that says we have no honor. You’re asking us to say that we’re not Marines. If a court decides that what we did was wrong, then I’ll accept whatever punishment they give. But I belive I was right, I believe I did my job. But I WILL NOT dishonor myself, my unit, or the Corps so that I can go home in six months! Sir.”

But the piece de resistance is when Kaffe forces Jessep to come out with the truth, by hitting at his ego. And that’s where Jessep comes out with his famous “ You cant handle the truth son”. The way Kaffe builds up the evidence, the way Jessep confronts him, and the final denoument, it is just awesome on screen. The only thing is I could not understand why Kaffe is shown discussing his strategy, that does take away the surprise element, or else this scene could have been much more effective.

Tom Cruise does a fairly good job, one of the few movies I liked him in. He manages to hold his own against Jack Nicholson in the court scene, not a mean feat, considering that Nicholson is a man who can chew the scenery up.

Demi Moore is also equally good as Galloway, who shares a love hate relationship with Kaffee, and later helps him in unravelling the truth.

Kevin Bacon , an often underrated actor, does well as the prosecutor Jack Ross , and he holds his own in that final courtroom scene.

But of course, the performance of the movie, goes to Jack Nicholson , who just manages to chew up the entire scenery in his inimitable style. Brooding, arrogant, egoistic, he simply breathes life into Col Jessep . Whether it’s bullying his subordinates to cover up the truth, or his outburst in the court scene, Jack is simply brilliant, making this movie worth a watch for him alone.
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From → 90's Hollywood

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