By Thomas Griffiths
A Few Good Men is directed by Rob Reiner and stars Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Jack Nicholson, Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Pollak, Wolfgang Bodison and James Marshall. The film is about a murder case towards a young marine, who is killed by two other marines, when he threatens to release incriminating information about those two marines in return for a transfer. The film stars Tom Cruise as the happy-go-lucky lawyer who works in the defence of these two marines, Kevin Bacon stars as the prosecution, and the incomparable Jack Nicholson stars as the fearsome, razor-tongued Colonel Jessup, who was in charge of the unit where the accused and victim came from.
One of the biggest problems that people tend to have with this film is the direction, mainly that it doesn’t trust the intelligence of the audience, but I actually think that, especially in the incredibly well-edited opening sequence and the several courtroom scenes, this is a really well-directed film. There are several camera angles in this movie, especially close-ups, that tell us a lot about what is happening with the characters, or try and suggest what to think about the characters. The cinematography is also really good, and holds up really well, and the fact that the film is a legal drama and has such a great scope to it is very surprising to me.
Now, I’m a really big fan of Tom Cruise, and I think he’s given a good performance, or at least a serviceable performance, in every film I’ve seen him in. This is definitely one of Cruise’s best performances, and that’s because there’s a lot of surprises with his character’s attitude – one moment he doesn’t give a damn and just wants to play baseball, one moment he’s a cocky little son of a gun who doesn’t seem to take his own situation seriously, and the moment he enters the courtroom he becomes a serious, efficient lawyer who’s fighting for the success of his clients. This guy plays out the stress and potential consequences of his success or failure perfectly, especially in one scene near the second half of the film where he gives this fantastic rant about the prospect of losing the case, and the closing line to that rant is probably one of my favourite insults of all time – Thank you for playing ‘Should We or Should We Not Follow the Advice of the Galactically Stupid!’
The supporting performances, especially the uppity prosecutor played by Kevin Bacon and the no-nonsense, headstrong Galloway played by Demi Moore, are great, and they are really realistic when you think about it – this film depicts a very real situation, surrounding a bunch of people who take their duty as officers in the military almost fanatically seriously, and this film explores the reasons for that in a way that makes you root for them even if you don’t agree with them. What I also think was the best element to this film was the fact that Tom Cruise’s character is an absolute fish out of water when he meets these soldiers, and he doesn’t really appreciate or understand how they take things seriously, and that made Cruise’s character even more relatable.
However, Jack Nicholson, in this movie, is probably one of my favourite soldier characters of all time. He is utterly captivating in this movie, which is interesting because he has one of the fewest scenes in this movie, and most of the stuff we learn about him is about conversations that happen without his presence between other characters. Every time he’s on the screen, he immediately becomes my favourite part of the entire film. Probably the greatest scene in this entire movie belongs completely to Jack Nicholson, who gives one of the most captivating movie monologues I have ever seen in a movie ever – the world-famous ‘You Can’t Handle the Truth’ speech, which has now become almost synonymous with courtroom scenes in films and TV, and with Jack Nicholson himself almost. Nicholson never even blinks in this speech, and the best part of it is the fact that I completely understood where he was coming from, which I really wasn’t expecting at all. Every single time I watch this scene, I end up holding my breath and gripping the seat next to me because this scene, when Cruise and Nicholson are exchanging blows in that courtroom, it’s riveting, and it’s the most well-realised part of the film.
My only flaws with the film lie with the fact that, even though it’s really interesting to see it develop, this film struggles with whether or not it is trying to be predictable or unpredictable – if it were predictable, it would work because it means your anticipating the big showdown between Cruise and Nicholson; if it were unpredictable, I think it would be even better because I’d want to know what the showdown would be like. That’s my biggest issue of this movie, and the reason I’m not going to give this movie full marks; otherwise, this is a really well-directed, engaging movie with some excellent acting and script, and an amazing finale. I highly recommend it.