Can You Handle the Truth
It's quite strange how one scene can make a movie, make it memorable and better than it really is. Take "A Few Good Men" it's an okay movie with it's tale of "Code Reds" and courtroom drama; but what do you remember it for? I bet it's for the courtroom scene towards the end where Jack Nicholson as Col. Nathan R. Jessep lets rip in court and bellows "You can't handle the truth!". How much of what went on before do you remember? I bet not a great deal and that is the thing, it is that one scene which makes "A Few Good Men" memorable and rightly or wrongly makes people think it's a great movie.
Smooth operating Navy Lawyer Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise - Days of Thunder) has never taken a case to trial, always choosing a plea bargain instead. But when he is given the case of two marines who are accused of murdering a colleague all that is about to change. Spurred on by Lt. Cdr. Joanne Galloway (Demi Moore - Ghost), Kaffee finds himself forced to go to trial especially when everything points to a military cover up as it appears the marines were ordered to give a "Code Red" by their superiors. But as Kaffee and his legal team dig deeper they find themselves coming up against the wall which is Col. Nathan R. Jessep (Jack Nicholson - The Witches of Eastwick) a much decorated man who is not only behind the orders but also treats Kaffee and his team with conceit.
Now to be honest all of the pieces which go in to making "A Few Good Men" are in fact good. The storyline about a Marine who dies following a "Code Red" is interesting and then the cover up by those in charge makes it quite thrilling because we then have the lawyers looking for the smoking gun which will blow the case apart. It draws us in because we want to know where Jessep and anyone else involved slipped up.
Even the characters are good from Tom Cruise as smooth talking and over confident Lt. Daniel Kaffee through to Demi Moore as officious Lt. Cdr. Joanne Galloway. And these two characters and various others draw you in to what is going on, we become interested in what they discover and just as interested in how Kaffee will handle actually trialling a case having got a name as someone who knocks out a deal rather than go into a courtroom. We even become entertained by the way they interact especially when Col. Jessep tries to belittle Kaffee and Galloway.
But the trouble is that whilst all the pieces are good and the storyline does draw us in it doesn't quite gel during the first three quarters of the movie. The problem comes from actually dumbing things down as there are a few scenes where we have Kaffee confidently telling people what he is going to do and then lo and behold he does exactly what he says. It maybe trying to build up this character, that Kaffee is over confident but in doing so it also treats the audience as being stupid, as if it needs to explain what is going to happen before it occurs just so no one loses the point. And it is a shame because as I said all of the pieces to "A Few Good Men" are very good it just doesn't exploit them with out belittling the intelligence of the audience.
Aside from that issue what you do remember "A Few Good Men" for is Jack Nicholson as Col. Jessep and the big finale when he lets rip in the courtroom and it is one of the best scenes ever made, full of drama, atmosphere and volatile power. Ironically Nicholson doesn't have a huge amount of scenes but every single one is captivating thanks to his strong performance, making Jessep this confident almost conceited Colonel who to put it simply thinks he is above the law. And it is in the scenes which Nicholson shares with Tom Cruise that Cruise delivers an electrifying performance especially in that tense courtroom confrontation.
It's a shame that when Cruise isn't sharing scenes with Nicholson we get what you could call your stereotypical performance of being confident and grinning a lot and whilst the character of Daniel Kaffee calls for all of this it just doesn't stand out. And to be honest the same can be said about Demi Moore as Lt. Cdr. Joanne Galloway as whenever Jack Nicholson is in the same scene her performance steps up a notch where as when he's not around it is your stereotypical Demi Moore performance.
What this all boils down to is that "A Few Good Men" is a good movie, an above average one, but one scene doesn't make a movie great. And so whilst that final courtroom battle is stunning, one of the truly great moments in cinema's history, the rest of the movie ends up good but not great despite having all the components to make a great movie. And the issue is that for some reason it dumbs things down as it tells audiences what to expect and then going ahead and delivering it, it just doesn't need all the telegraphing.