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A Few Good Men (1992)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 9/18/2007

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/13/2007

A Few Good Men opens on the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. We see two soldiers enter a barracks, where they jump another soldier who was asleep, bound his limbs, and place tape over his mouth. The setting then jumps to Washington, D.C., where we meet young hotshot lawyer Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) of the Navy's Judge Advocate General's office. (Yes, that's the same as J.A.G.) Kaffee has a reputation for being able to plea-bargain any case and he's never gone to trial. He's informed that he'll be handled the case of the two Marines viewed in the opening scenes, Lance Corporal Harold W. Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) and Private First Class Louden Downey (James Marshall). It seems that the Marine which they attacked, Private First Class William T. Santiago (Michael DeLorenzo) died in the struggle. Kaffee will be teamed with Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) (who wanted to be lead counsel on the case) and Lieutenant Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak). They will be going up against experienced Marine lawyer Captain Jack Ross (Kevin Bacon).

In order to prepare the case, Kaffee, Galloway, and Weinberg travel to Cuba, where they meet Colonel Nathan R. Jessup (Jack Nicholson), Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Markinson (J.T. Walsh), and Lieutenant Jonathon Kendrick (Keifer Sutherland), all of whom have information about Santiago's death, yet none of them seem to have been disturbed by it. (In a flashback scene, we see that Jessup is aware that Santiago's performance isn't up to par and gives permission for him to be dealt with.) Kaffee immediately gets an uneasy feeling from this meeting. Back in Washington, everyone expects Kaffee's team to simply plea-bargain the deal, but Kaffee has other plans. He wants to take the case to trial and attempt to prove that while Dawson and Downey may have been responsible for Santiago's death, they were only doing what they had been ordered to do.

The "You want the truth?! You can't handle the truth!" line from A Few Good Men has become so well-known and quoted so many times that it's nearly a cliche. Yet, when one actually sits down and watches the movie (I hadn't seen it in its entirety since 1992), one remembers just how powerful the movie really is.

A Few Good Men is one of those classic films which is difficult to dislike, unless, of course, you hate courtroom dramas. The film is based on a play by Aaron Sorkin, and his dialogue, combined with an uncredited rewrite by William Goldman, offer a very solid and engrossing story. Director Rob Reiner is able to cram a lot of information into this 138-minute film, but he also slows down when appropriate to allow us to get to know the characters. The characters and the multi-layered story, which is part drama/part murder-mystery, allow the viewer to be drawn in, even if they know nothing about the military or the law. The bulk of the film is taken up by the courtroom scenes and Reiner, who had already proven himself a master of suspense with 1990's Misery, cranks up the tension in these scenes.

The movie also gets a lot of mileage out of the moral questions at the center of the trail. The case in the film isn't a simple one and it challenges the viewer to debate right along with the characters. Unlike most movies of this sort, there isn't a question of who committed the murder -- that is decided at the outset. Rather, the movie examines why the murder occurred and who should be held accountable. It calls into question the secrecy of the military and treatment of human beings.

A quick glance at the above synopsis shows that A Few Good Men has a stellar cast of recognizable names and most do a great job in the film. It's hard to take Nicholson seriously as a military man in some scenes, but he, of course, steals the show in the courtroom. A Few Good Men must be a good movie, as I didn't hate Demi Moore in it, and that is a true feat. Bacon is solid as a Marine lawyer, and Pollak adds some much needed levity to the film. As usual, Tom Cruise is the only weak link in the cast. As the film opens, Kaffee is a brash and cocky, and Cruise is perfect for these scenes. But, once he realizes that he was expected to plea-bargain the case, Kaffee is supposed to lose his confidence, but Cruise isn't convincing in these scenes.

Fifteen years later, A Few Good Men is still a solid, impressive film. It's that rare movie that combines an engrossing story with a bold political statement. The dialogue is eminently quotable and most of the performances are solid.

A Few Good Men salutes Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is, of course, enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The video is 1080p. Still being relatively new to Blu-ray, I still think of it in terms of highlighting big blockbusters, but the medium is good for any movie. The image here is very sharp and detailed. The image is very clear, revealing a very, very fine sheen of grain on the image, but no major defects from the source material. The clarity of the image renders a very distinct difference between the background and foreground action, giving the picture a very nice depth of field. The colors look great and the blacks of Kaffee's uniform are true. The digital transfer reveals some softness to the image, but otherwise the video is top-notch. The disc offers the English audio tack in uncompressed PCM 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1. For the purposes of this review, only the PCM track was sampled. This track offers crystal clear dialogue with no hissing or distortion. Being a drama, there aren't a ton of audio effects here, but the stereo separation is noticeable and effective. A thunderstorm in the film gives way to some nice surround sound and subwoofer effects.

The Blu-ray Disc offers a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from director Rob Reiner, although I'm not sure when this was recorded. In his matter-of-fact fashion, Reinber describes the on-screen action, paying attention to location, and more often, the actors and their acting styles. "Code of Conduct" (35 minutes) is a making-of featurette which offers comments from Reiner, writer Aaron Sorkin, and the cast. This has a mixture of archive and more modern interviews. Sorkin discusses the origin of the story and the development of the film, while Reiner talks about casting and production. The actors then discuss their characters. Sorkin and Reiner give more details in "From Stage to Screen" (14 minutes), describing the similarities and differences between the movie and the play.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long