From The DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews A Few Good Men (1992)
A Few Good Men is one of those movies that I saw countless times in the nineties, to the point that I knew the film so well that it bored me. But then I stopped watching it, and when I decided to pop the film into my DVD player earlier this month, it had been many years since I’d last seen it.
While there are a few moments that haven’t aged well, overall I found A Few Good Men to still be a powerhouse of a film – just phenomenally entertaining.
This film is part of Rob Reiner’s astounding run of films – This is Spinal Tap (1984), The Sure Thing (1985), Stand By Me (1986), The Princess Bride (1987), When Harry Met Sally (1989). Has any other director had such a run of such phenomenal films, one after another? And what’s really astounding is how different they all are from one another – different genres, different styles. It’s unbelievable how good all of those films are (and how well they all hold up to this day).
Take a director at the top of his game, and mix him with a screenplay by the brilliant Aaron Sorkin (adapting his own play), and you have a recipe for an amazing film. As with much of the work of Mr. Reiner and Mr. Sorkin, the story has a strong dramatic core – but it is also filled with a lot of humor.
It’s fun to watch this movie now and to see just how young Tom Cruise and Demi Moore are in this film. Cruise is just great – you can see his star-power shining through, bright and strong, in his protrayal of hot-shot young lawyer Daniel Kaffee. Moore is a little flatter, but still does well in the role of the stiff Lt. Cdr. Joe Galloway. I think this is one of her best performances. I feel the same way about Kevin Bacon. I tend to think that he’s a much better actor than Demi Moore, and there are certainly plenty of other films in which I’ve really enjoyed his performance. But still, I would argue that his role in A Few Good Men is one of his very best. I love the way he plays his relationship with Cruise’s Kaffee. There’s deep friendship, but also some rivalry and antagonism, between the two young men. In the hands of less-skilled actors, the relationship could have so easily tipped over to one side or the other – but Cruise and Bacon walk that fine line perfectly. I find their characters’ interplay to be endlessly fascinating, and one of the secret treasures of this film.
The great Kevin Pollack is amazing, as he always is. He gets quite a number of the best lines in the piece, but he’s also able to more than hold his own in the meaty dramatic scenes that he gets to play.
Then, of course, there is Jack. Mr. Nicholson’s iconic performance has been much parodied, and with good cause – it is over-the-top in the way that only Nicholson can be. And yet, somehow, it all works within the confines of the film. I find the climactic courtroom scene to be a show-stopper, wonderfully written, directed, and performed. Even though I know exactly what’s going to happen, each time I watch that scene I still somehow find myself wondering just how Lt. Kaffee is going to get Colonel Jessep to admit that he ordered that Code Red.
The only off moments for me in the film are a few instances in which Mr. Reiner veers just a little too closely to schmaltz or cliché. I found Kaffee’s making-his-decision night-time montage to be pretty silly, as was his rain-soaked confrontation with Joe (in which he declares his intention not to give up, and to put Jessep on the stand). I also thought that last salute, at the end of the film, was a bit much. I know that these are the little touches that seem to help make movies like these become real crowd-pleasers, but I like a little bit more subtlety (and a little less soaring music to tell me that this is an emotional moment), thank you.
Still, these are tiny complaints about a few moments in an otherwise top-notch film. A Few Good Men has aged well, and I look forward to revisiting it again in the future. I don’t think I’ll need to wait a decade this time.