Thursday, October 8, 2015

Top 52 Things I Love About A Few Good Men (that no one talks about)

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?”
“Pretty much…yeah…”

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.

More “No One Talks About” Posts


  1. What a fucking film. Definitely a classic that people watch over and over and over again. And this is the last great film that Rob Reiner made. After that, (with the exception of The American President it all went downhill and he's pretty much became shit after that.

    1. Holy shit man, I didn't even realize The American President was his last good movie. That's insane. Opened with one hell of a string of classics though.

  2. Definitely digging the introduction and re-introduction of Nicholson's character. Such a brilliant movie...I actually forgot my boy Kiefer Sutherland was in this; it's been so long since I've seen it! Great post!

    1. Thanks! Kiefer is such a hard ass in this movie. Love when Nicholson calls him a weasel behind his back.

    2. Kiefer, like his dad Donald, is a good Canadian.

  3. I really love this movie. The entire cast is perfect. Kiefer Sutherland is often way too overlooked as an actor outside of 24 i feel. Whatever happened to Rob Reiner as a director though. He could go from silly comedies like This is Spinal Tap, to dark and creepy movies like Misery and then to captivating courtroom dramas like this and they would all be just as great. But now i can't even remember the last time i saw a great Rob Reiner movie. I hope he has a comeback as a director soon.

    1. The arc of his career is such a shame. He opens with 6 classics (never seen The Sure Thing) then falls off almost completely after The American President. A real bummer. But no one can take those 6 away.

    2. The Sure Thing is a pretty fun 80's teen comedy. I haven't watched in probably over 10 years now, but i remember liking it. I have always liked John Cusack movies as well tough. Especially from that era.

    3. Oh cool. I'll give it a look soon.

  4. Great post! I really need to revisit this film. People don't give enough credit to Rob Reiner as a director. I mean, he's made so many different films, many of which are true classics. This, The American President, Stand By Me, Misery, This Is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally (my personal favourite), like, you can't argue with any of those. All such great films.

    1. Thanks! Definitely can't argue with any of those films. All so great and all so different.

  5. Er, am I really the only person who thinks this film is awful? these posts, Alex! You always find such fun moments to highlight.

    1. Thanks man! But dude, what movies do you like haha?

  6. As much as I love this film, and I think its an excellent showcase of great acting and top-notch expository dialogue, it irks me to know that Sorkin could've made the final confrontation scene between Jessup and Kaffee a surprise, and yet gave it all away by letting the audience know what and how Kaffee was going to do in the courtroom. Like Ebert so succinctly put it, the film tells what it's going to do and then does the exact same thing. If only we didn't know Kaffee was going to instigate Jessup and hurt his ego, I think the film's already great finale would've been more rewarding.

    1. That's a very valid point. I'm a huge fan of holding back details from the audience, but that's not really Sorkin's bag. But I do agree, it's typically not very exciting for characters to say exactly what they're going to do then do exactly that. But here, in the case of this flick, I'm okay with it.

  7. Such a great movie and love the details you focused on. :)

  8. Terrific post! I haven't seen this in years, man. Now I need to rewatch it!

  9. Hello! Would anybody know who that black woman lawyer beside Kevin Pollak (Sam Weinberg) is?

  10. I would add the part with Cuba Godding Jr. on my list. And the clock in the courtroom. One of my favorite movies. I was once in a workplace dispute and, after rewatching this movie a few times, I realized that the exact same logic and bait that Cruise used on Nicholson applied to my former boss. In a recorded dispute hearing we reached a point where if he was such a good manager, and my work had been so consistently awful, then why had he given me so much responsibility? Or perhaps he was lying to cover something up? [long stunned silence][no coherent response] He was terminated soon after.

    1. Great picks, and I LOVE that story. I love hearing stories of people who have learned something from a movie and apply it in the real world. Especially since you won out there!