Rob Reiner’s A Few Good Men is one of those movies I can watch anytime, anywhere. Which is fitting, given that it’s one of the most popular TNT Movies (Cinema Romantico™) around. It also contains one of Aaron Sorkin’s finest scripts to date. So with the Sorkin-penned Steve Jobs hitting theaters tomorrow, here’s a look back at some things I love about A Few Good Men that are rarely discussed.
There is no reason Marc Shaiman’s barely-out-of-the-‘80s synth keyboard musical score should work. But it does. It really does.
People forget that the great Robert Richardson (JFK, Casino, The Aviator, Inglourious Basterds, Hugo) shot this film. The look of A Few Good Men never gets enough credit.
The magnificent sound design of this opening credit sequence. There’s a reason this flick was nominated for the Best Sound Oscar.
Love the way the camera smoothly pans from the riflemen to JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) walking. A great in-camera transition.
“Commander I’d like you to leave the room so we can talk about you behind your back.”
Matt Craven. Not enough people talk about Matt Craven. An excellent scene stealer incapable of giving a bad performance. (Further reading: Crimson Tide, Boomtown, Disturbia, Justified.)
Xander Berkeley sliding a pen to Danny Kaffee (Tom Cruise), because of course Danny doesn’t have a pen.
“In other words, I have no responsibilities here whatsoever.” Fuckin’ Kevin Pollak.
Sam Weinberg (Pollak) explaining to Danny who Col. Nathan Jessup is. Such a hilarious little reprieve.
Danny rubbing his hands together to dry up leftover apple juice.
“Who the fuck is Pfc. William T. Santiago?” One of the best character introductions of all time. We know right away that we need to fear this man.
I love when movies include an extended flashback without announcing that it is a flashback. This whole meeting between Jessup (Jack Nicholson), Lt. Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland), and Lt. Col. Markinson (J.T. Walsh) took place months ago, but you have to be paying close attention to realize that. It’s also the only flashback in the film, which is such an interesting narrative choice.
Josh Malina’s sincerity at Jessup’s sarcastic order to surrender America’s position in Cuba.
“John, you’re in charge. Santiago doesn’t make 4-6-4-6 on his next proficiency and conduct report and I’m going to blame you. Then I’m going to kill you.” Nicholson’s delivery of Sorkin’s sarcasm is ace.
Kevin Bacon and his hair and his posture and his insanely high waist line.
Danny’s interactions with Luther are the kind of perfect and concise character touches that we don’t see enough of in movies today.
“Don’t forget to wear the whites, very hot down there.”
“I don’t like the whites.”
“Nobody likes the whites.”
Call back #1 to “the whites”:
Probably my favorite line Aaron Sorkin has ever written.
Danny running to match Kendrick’s pace. Even when the person Danny is antagonizing can’t see him, Danny is still a smart ass.
Flawless shot composition.
Jessup thanking the server for a delicious meal. There’s something genuine yet creepy, earnest yet terrifying about his delivery.
Listen closely and you can hear Kendrick laughing in the background during Jessup’s sexist rant. Great little character detail.
The sound design of Jessup jamming a cigar into his mouth.
Call back #2 to “the whites”:
“Don’t look now, Danny, but you’re making an argument.”
Aaron Sorkin’s DC snob cameo.
Danny coughing as he enters the court room for the first time.
Danny delivering the first line of his opening argument from his seat.
The fact that Christopher Guest looks unrecognizable here, even though he didn’t physically alter his appearance for the role.
This is random, but I love how “lactic acidosis” sounds. Not the condition, but the actual words. Kind of like “tortious interference” in The Insider.
The fact that the movie doesn’t go out of its way to force a Danny/Jo romance on us. I can’t imagine that happening today. Any studio would insist that they fall in love.
Danny gracefully stealing the Guantanamo Bay SOP book from Jack (Kevin Bacon), so that he can literally use it against him.
Again with the high waist. His pants must be above his belly button.
And again with the sound. While Danny is pressing Kendrick on the stand, a man off camera coughs quietly, which grabs Kendrick’s annoyed attention. I’d love to know if that cough actually happened, or if Sutherland just looked camera left for whatever reason, and the cough was added in post.
I love the audacity of the film for poking at the military by having Pfc. Louden Downey be such a dummy. As it is in the writing, Downey is apparently just a few steps away from being mentally handicapped. Examples (click to enlarge):
“Are you drunk?”
The slow push in on Danny as he rounds out his drunken rant against Jo.
Danny telling Sam to stop cleaning up.
Call back #3 to “the whites”:
This absolutely perfect character reintroduction.
“Is the Colonel’s underwear a matter of national security?”
The cut-in to Danny’s close-up (his first in this sequence), when he delivers the line, “I’m wondering why Santiago wasn’t packed?” Waiting to use the close-up for such an important line of dialogue is a perfect marriage of great cinematography and seamless editing.
Jessup chuckling at Danny, as if you say, “You wanna go to war with me, you snotty little bastard? Let’s do it.”
Danny nervously drinking water before he goes all in on Jessup.
Danny antagonizing Jessup on the stand: “I can have the court reporter read back to you--”
Obviously Nicholson’s post-“You can’t handle the truth!” monologue is discussed a lot. But I love his little dig against Kevin Pollak’s character. “Those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You?! YOU, Lieutenant Weinberg?!”
Jack slowly sitting down as Jessup delivers his speech.
Jo’s face after Jessup admits he ordered the Code Red. That’s fucking acting right there.
Danny’s plea to Jack. “…Jack…?” For the first time, they aren’t lawyers battling each other. They’re friends.
Jessup straightening his uniform. Again, the sound.
This insert shot of Jessup picking his hat up off the floor.
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