Film Score: Marc Shaiman Cinematography: Robert Richardson
Starring: Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Jack Nicholson and Kevin Bacon
A Few Good Men has been a staple on cable TV for a very specific reason: it’s a great film. This is one of several films that director Rob Reiner made during his peak, among them Stand by Me in 1986, The Princes Bride in 1987, and When Harry Met Sally in 1989, and it may be the best of the bunch. Based on the play by Aaron Sorkin--and his first screenwriting credit--the film was so successful that the pair teamed up again for The American President in 1995. Sorkin, of course, is the Academy Award winning screenwriter of The Social Network, as well as the multiple Emmy Award winning screenwriter and creator of The West Wing, and this was quite an auspicious start.
At the time, A Few Good Men had some big name stars along with a supporting cast of relative unknowns. Seen today, however, it’s a star-studded extravaganza. The actors in just the supporting roles are J.T. Walsh, Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland, Noah Wyle, Cuba Gooding Jr., Christopher Guest and Josh Malina. Along with leads Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, Demi Morre and Kevin Pollak, it’s no wonder that it plays all the time on TV. In addition, while not quite up to the status of Clint Eastwood’s “Make my day,” Nicholson’s “You can’t handle the truth,” has had it’s own half-life as a cultural reference for over two decades.
The story of Marines accused of murder in Guantanamo Bay was drawn from the real-life experience of Sorkin’s sister, who was sent to Cuba on a similar mission. From that, his Broadway play of the same name was born and it was just a matter of time before the property was purchased for Hollywood. Cruise and Moore seem impossibly young, and it works even better for the film now, as they play untested JAG core lawyers. Nicholson is the sun that the entire cast revolves around as his confidence as an actor exudes in his character as the lieutenant-colonel of Gitmo who actually ordered the hazing of the marine private and thus, ultimately bears the responsibility for his death.
But it’s not just the cast that is great. The screenplay by Sorkin is loaded with his trademark snappy dialogue, abundant wit, and fast-paced monologues. Set designs and costumes are also a key element to the longevity to the film, as the courtroom scenes could have just as easily been from the 1950s as from the 1990s. But it’s Reiner’s direction that brings it all together, especially his fluid camera work in the courtroom, that brings to life what could have been a static film in the hands of a lesser director. Nicholson and Reiner were both nominated for Oscars, but didn’t win because of the strong field that year. Ultimately, however, it’s the film’s life after the awards season that determines its greatness and, in that respect, A Few Good Men is most definitely one of the greats.