Judge Ryan Keefer wanders if former heavyweight boxer Carl Williams was a little bit better and Mike Tyson wasn't fighting in the area, he could have had a huge marketing opportunity on his hands (go look it up on Wikipedia, he won't tell us what it means).
"¡Usted no puede manejar la verdad!"
(Whoops, sorry. Someone had the wrong subtitles on for a second.)
Long before The West Wing and Sports Night, Aaron Sorkin was like you and me, especially if I had a rapidly rising star as a playwright within New York theater circles. A Few Good Men was transformed into a Broadway play and later adapted for film and was a showcase for A-list talent. So after 15 years, how does the legal thriller play out now (and on Blu-ray, to boot)?
Facts of the Case
So by now you know Sorkin adapted his play for films, and yes, A-list talent came out in droves for this. Long before the publicity it has received in the last few years, Guantanamo Bay was a fairly anonymous marine duty station. In A Few Good Men, a murder has been committed. Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise, Minority Report) is a young hotshot lawyer who is serving the Judge Advocate General's office in the matter, over the objections of a senior officer named Joanne Galloway (Demi Moore, Disclosure). Kaffee knows everyone within the JAG Corps, even the prosecutor, Captain "Smiling" Jack Ross (Kevin Bacon, Wild Things). But this trial won't be a quickie plea deal that Kaffee is known for. The commanding officer at Gitmo is Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson, The Departed), an officer groomed for a career within Washington. Kaffee is the son of a famous lawyer, and while he has been living on that reputation somewhat, this trial becomes a struggle for him to live up to the family name while desperately trying to get two young Marines acquitted.
I don't remember much about when A Few Good Men first came out, I think I was head first into basic training at that point, and when I got out and had a couple weeks off, I was looking more towards the heavy metal rock show than anything else. But what makes this film great, and what makes anything written by Aaron Sorkin well worth the invested time is just how much humor is injected into their roles. There's this thing that Sorkin does with his characters where they get into an exchange that usually results in something said that the viewer probably hasn't heard before. This knack is uncanny; over several TV shows and films, he gives the people he creates a sense of perspective that hasn't been seen in most other films and shows, and that's why he is always welcomed back whenever he trots out a new project, because his material really is for those who swim in the adult end of the pool, and it's well worth it.
In A Few Good Men he was inspired from a story he heard his sister mention, so he wrote, rewrote and rewrote the story some more as it went from play to film form. And to give such polished dialogue a chance to be recited by the best that Hollywood offered at the time just made it all the more better. In Kaffee, Cruise clearly was given a side of humor that most of us hadn't really seen much of up to that point. Aside from the people I've mentioned, Kiefer Sutherland (24), Noah Wyle (ER) and Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry Maguire) also appear in the film in smaller roles, along with Reiner compadre Christopher Guest (This is Spinal Tap). This galaxial cast helped show the world that with all the marquee names in this film, the reason why they gravitated to it was because of Sorkin's dialogue, not to mention a story that was engrossing from start to finish.
From a supplement point of view, the extras mirror those found on the Special Edition. For a witty guy, Reiner really doesn't have anything interesting to say. Extended periods of silence are frequent throughout his track, and any production information here is sparse. He's a noted bland commentary participant, so I had low expectations coming in, and Reiner delivered said disappointment. From there are two featurettes on the film. "Code of Conduct" covers the origins of the film with new interview footage from Sorkin, Reiner and just about every other member of the cast save for Cruise. Everyone also talks about how cool it was to work with Jack, Tom and everyone else, and how they enjoyed the production overall. It's kind of funny that such a "retrospective" piece spans over a half hour and wasn't much more than a mutual admiration society, but there you go. "From Stage to Screen" focuses on Sorkin and Reiner as they discuss how the film got made, but mainly Sorkin discusses how he came to write the story, both as a play and as a screenplay. Quite frankly, it was more informative than the first featurette, and in less than half the time.
Technically, the MPEG-2 encoded transfer on this 2.35:1 widescreen presentation is generally pretty good, what impressed me most about it was the level of detail on the Washington, DC exterior shots. The print is clean as a whistle and it shows on every scene in the film, and overall it was a pleasant viewing experience. The PCM soundtrack is a little more restrained, and the film is a little quieter than I recall, but surround effects remain active over the course of the film when needed and dialogue is crisp and clear when possible. Both are noticeable upgrades over the standard def version.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In larger scale films over the last couple of decades, doesn't it seem like Jack has become a caricature of himself? He did get an Oscar nomination for this role (his tenth nomination, by the way), but one could say that since he wore the white makeup in Batman, it's been an erratic and possibly slippery slope in film choices. He seems to channel quite a bit of Al Pacino yelling, but I think that with this nomination, Jack was clearly more supported by the witty Sorkin dialogue than by anything he really did—yes, the "truth" line inclusive.
A Few Good Men seems to remain neglected in the Sony library. The extras suck, so you're only really in this for the audio and video which thankfully are pretty good. The film's hallmark remains an entertaining story with great dialogue, so if you haven't seen it, Dawson and Downey will be giving you a Code Red in your future.
A verdict about a courtroom-centered film seems to place this justice in a vacuum, but it's not guilty regardless.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director Rob Reiner
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