This article is about the film. For the play, see A Few Good Men (play). For the Vampire Diaries episode, see A Few Good Men (The Vampire Diaries).
A Few Good Men is a 1992 American courtroom drama film directed by Rob Reiner and starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, and Demi Moore, with Kevin Bacon, Kevin Pollak, James Marshall, J. T. Walsh, and Kiefer Sutherland in supporting roles. It was adapted for the screen by Aaron Sorkin from his play of the same name. The film revolves around the court-martial of two U.S. Marines charged with the murder of a fellow Marine and the tribulations of their lawyers as they prepare a case to defend their clients.
The film covers the court-martial of two U.S. Marines, Lance Corporal Harold Dawson and Private Louden Downey, who killed a fellow Marine, Private William Santiago, at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Santiago compared unfavorably to his fellow Marines, had poor relations with them, and failed to respect the chain of command in attempts at being transferred to another base. An argument evolves between base commander Colonel Nathan Jessup and his officers: while Jessup's executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Markinson, advocates that Santiago be transferred immediately, Jessup regards this as akin to surrender and orders Santiago's commanding officer, Lieutenant Kendrick, to train Santiago into a better Marine.
When Dawson and Downey are later arrested for Santiago's murder, naval investigator and lawyer Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway suspects they carried out a "code red" order, a violent extrajudicial punishment. Galloway asks to defend them, but instead, the case is given to Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, an inexperienced and unenthusiastic U.S. Navy lawyer. Initially, friction exists between Galloway, who resents Kaffee's tendency to plea bargain, and Kaffee, who resents Galloway's interference. Kaffee and the prosecutor, his friend Captain Jack Ross, negotiate a bargain, but Dawson and Downey refuse to go along. They insist they were ordered by Lieutenant Kendrick to shave Santiago's head, minutes after Kendrick publicly ordered the platoon not to touch the would-be victim, and did not intend their victim to die. Kaffee is finally won over by Galloway and takes the case to court.
In the course of the trial, the defense manages to establish the existence of "code red" orders at Guantanamo and that Dawson specifically had learned not to disobey any order, having been denied a promotion after helping out a fellow Marine who was under what could be seen as a "code red". However, the defense also suffers setbacks when a cross-examination reveals Private Downey was not actually present when Dawson and he supposedly received the "code red" order. Lieutenant Colonel Markinson reveals to Kaffee that Jessup never intended to transfer Santiago off the base, but commits suicide rather than testify in court.
Without Markinson's testimony, Kaffee believes the case lost and returns home in a drunken stupor, having come to regret he fought the case instead of arranging a plea bargain. Galloway, however, convinces Kaffee to call Colonel Jessup as a witness despite the risk of being court-martialled for smearing a high-ranking officer. Jessup initially outsmarts Kaffee's questioning, but is unnerved when the lawyer points out a contradiction in his testimony; Jessup had stated he wanted to transfer Santiago off the base for his own safety, but if he ordered his men to leave Santiago alone and if Marines always obey orders, Santiago would have been in no danger. Under heavy pressure from Kaffee and unnerved by being caught in one of his own lies, an enraged Jessup extols his own importance to national security, and eventually reveals that he ordered the "code red". As he justifies his actions, Jessup is arrested.
Soon afterwards, Dawson and Downey are cleared of the murder charge, but found guilty of "conduct unbecoming a United States Marine" and dishonorably discharged. Dawson accepts the verdict, but Downey does not understand what they had done wrong. Dawson explains they had failed to stand up for those too weak to fight for themselves, like Santiago. As the two prepare to leave, Kaffee tells Dawson he does not need a patch on his arm to have honor. Dawson, who had previously been reluctant to respect Kaffee as an officer, barks, "Ten-hut! There's an officer on deck!" and salutes Kaffee.
Tom Cruise as Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, USN, JAG Corps,
Jack Nicholson as Colonel Nathan R. Jessup, USMC,
Demi Moore as Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway, USN, JAG Corps,
Kevin Bacon as Captain Jack Ross, USMC,
Kiefer Sutherland as Lieutenant Jonathan James Kendrick, USMC,
Kevin Pollak as Lieutenant Sam Weinberg, USN, JAG Corps,
Wolfgang Bodison as Lance Corporal Harold Dawson, USMC,
James Marshall as Private Louden Downey, USMC,
J.T. Walsh as Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Markinson, USMC,
J.A. Preston as Judge (Colonel) Julius Alexander Randolph, USMC,
Michael DeLorenzo as Private William T. Santiago, USMC,
Noah Wyle as Corporal Jeffrey Owen Barnes, USMC,
Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Corporal Carl Edward Hammaker, USMC,
Xander Berkeley as Captain Whitaker, USN,
Matt Craven as Lieutenant Dave Spradling, USN, JAG Corps,
John M. Jackson as Captain West, USN, JAG Corps,
Christopher Guest as Commander (Dr.) Stone, USN, MC,
Joshua Malina as Jessup's clerk, Tom, USMC,
Aaron Sorkin as a lawyer bragging in a tavern,
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin got the inspiration to write the source play, a courtroom drama called A Few Good Men, from a phone conversation with his sister Deborah, who had graduated from Boston University Law School and signed up for a three-year stint with the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps. She was going to Guantanamo Bay to defend a group of Marines who came close to killing a fellow Marine in a hazing ordered by a superior officer. Sorkin took that information and wrote much of his story on cocktail napkins while bartending at the Palace Theatre on Broadway. His roommates and he had purchased a Macintosh 512K, so when he returned home, he would empty his pockets of the cocktail napkins and type them into the computer, forming a basis from which he wrote many drafts for A Few Good Men.
In 1988, Sorkin sold the film rights for his play to producer David Brown before it premiered, in a deal reportedly "well into six figures". Brown had read an article in the New York Times about Sorkin's one-act play Hidden in This Picture, and he found out Sorkin also had a play called A Few Good Men that was having off-Broadway readings.
William Goldman did an uncredited rewrite of the script that Sorkin liked so much, he incorporated the changes made into the stage version.
Brown was producing a few projects at TriStar Pictures, and he tried to interest them in making A Few Good Men into a film, but his proposal was declined due to the lack of star-actor involvement. Brown later got a call from Alan Horn at Castle Rock Entertainment, who was anxious to make the film. Rob Reiner, a producing partner at Castle Rock, opted to direct it.
The film had a production budget of $33,000,000.
Nicholson would later comment of the $5 million he received for his role, "It was one of the few times when it was money well spent."
The film starts with a recital of "Semper Fidelis" by a U.S. Marine Corps marching band, and a Silent Drill (performed by the Texas A&M University Corps of Cadets Fish Drill Team).
Several former Navy JAG lawyers have been identified as the basis for Tom Cruise's character Lt. Kaffee. These include Don Marcari (now an attorney in Virginia), former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, Chris Johnson (now practicing in California), and Walter Bansley III (now practicing in Connecticut.) However, in a September 15, 2011, article of the The New York Times, Sorkin was quoted as saying, "The character of Dan Kaffee in A Few Good Men is entirely fictional and was not inspired by any particular individual."
Wolfgang Bodison was a film location scout when he was asked to take part in a screen test for the part of Dawson.
Awards and honors:
Academy Awards nominations:
The film was nominated for four Academy Awards:
Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Jack Nicholson),
Best Film Editing,
Best Sound Mixing (Kevin O'Connell, Rick Kline and Robert Eber),
Golden Globe nominations:
The film was nominated for five Golden Globe Awards:
Best Motion Picture - Drama,
Best Director (Rob Reiner),
Best Actor (Tom Cruise),
Best Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson),
Best Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin),
AFI 100 Years... series:
The film was recognized twice by the AFI 100 Years... series. In 2005, Nicholson's reading of the line "You can't handle the truth!" was voted the 29th greatest American film quote of all time and in 2008 the film was voted the fifth best Courtroom Drama.
AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains:
Colonel Nathan R. Jessup - Nominated Villain,
AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
"You can't handle the truth!" - No. 29,
AFI's 10 Top 10 - No. 5 Courtroom Drama,
The film opened on December 11, 1992, in 1,925 theaters. It grossed $15,517,468 in its first weekend and was the number-one film at the box office for the next three weeks. Overall, it grossed $141,340,178 in the U.S. and $95,159,822 in international markets, giving a total of $236,500,000.
The film was a big success, both with critics and at the box office. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone magazine said, "That the performances are uniformly outstanding is a tribute to Rob Reiner (Misery), who directs with masterly assurance, fusing suspense and character to create a movie that literally vibrates with energy." Richard Schickel in Time magazine called it "an extraordinarily well-made movie, which wastes no words or images in telling a conventional but compelling story." Todd McCarthy in Variety magazine predicted, "The same histrionic fireworks that gripped theater audiences will prove even more compelling to filmgoers due to the star power and dramatic screw-tightening." The film has an 81% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes.