"You can't handle the truth!!!"
A riveting court drama, A Few Good Men featured a stellar cast, including Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible 2, Eyes Wide Shut), Demi Moore (G.I. Jane), Kevin Bacon (Hollow Man), Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Men Of Honor), Kiefer Sutherland (The Lost Boys), Christopher Guest (Best In Show), Kevin Pollack (Canadian Bacon) and Jack Nicholson (As Good As It Gets), as well as top notch director Rob Reiner (Misery). Scripted by "The West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin from his theatrical play, A Few Good Men went on to not only top the box office in 1992, but also garner four Oscar nominations, including Best Supporting Actor (Nicholson), Best Sound, Best Editing, and the coveted Best Picture. Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment steps up to the plate with A Few Good Men: Special Edition.
Facts of the Case
In a military base camp in Cuba, Guantanamo Bay, Private William Santiago (Michael DeLorenzo) has been murdered. His death was a tragedy; two men bound him while stuffing a rag down his throat. The two men, Pfc. Lowden Downey (James Marshall) and Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) have been charged with Santiago's death. Their trial is being handled by Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Cruise), a hot shot Navel lawyer who's won forty four cases in just under nine months. He's teamed with Lt. Cdr. Joanne Galloway (Moore) and his assistant Sam Weinberg (Pollack) to defend what looks to be like an open and shut case. Looks, however, can be deceiving.
Kaffee starts to think that the two men are murders. He sees that there's much more to this case, and that commanding officer Col. Nathan R. Jessup (Nicholson) has something to do with it. The boys say they were just following an order given by their superior (Sutherland). The ranking officers say that there were explicit instructions not to touch Santiago, whom was apparently scheduled to be transferred out after Santiago put in repeated requests to leave.
Soon the evidence starts piling up…and unfolding. Two men's lives are on trial and the only defense team that can help them is Kaffee's.
The witnesses will be called. The gavel will be dropped. Justice shall prevail.
By definition I'm not much into political thrillers, courtroom dramas, or anything with Demi Moore as the star. I've read a few of John Grisham's books, but aside of that I'm not a fan of this type of entertainment. I'd seen A Few Good Men years ago when it first came out, and remembered almost nothing about it (save for the taut end confrontation between Nicholson and Cruise). I wasn't really thrilled to watch it again, seeing as it falls into one of the above named categories. To my delight, A Few Good Men played far better today than it did when I originally saw it back in 1992.
A Few Good Men is an excellent example of a great movie that needs no fancy effects or digital aliens. It all comes down to a good script, and if A Few Good Men only had one good thing going for it (and it most certainly has more), it would be writer Aaron Sorkin's powerful script. Sorkin would later pen Rob Reiner's other political tale, The American President, as well as the hit show "The West Wing." Here he shows that he's master of his arena, using words as knives and explanation points as bullets. Sorkin has a grand way with words, making sure that the audience is always involved and never slowing down enough to make the film muddle. It's a gifted writer that can do this good of work for over two hours, keeping the audience glued to the screen.
The performances are equally as good, headed by Tom Cruise as Lt. Danny Kaffee. I'll be the first to admit that I not a huge Tom Cruise fan either. I don't have anything against him personally as an actor; I've just never found many movies starring him that I have liked (Mission: Impossible, Top Gun, the list goes on). Here he shows that he's a very capable actor given the right script. Kaffee is a brash, egotistical lawyer who thinks he'll easily win every case thrown at him. Cruise is able to bring electric energy to the screen, making his character do a believable one-eighty half way through the film. Demi Moore is excellent in a role that makes her a tough woman officer but also very human. Kevin Bacon fares well as the prosecuting lawyer Jack Ross, playing…well, one slice of Bacon is the same as the last. Even so, he's still apt in the role. Other familiar faces pop up, including Cuba Gooding, Jr. in a very early performance as a trial witness, and Christopher Guest as Dr. Stone (who looks like he should be doing some improvisational comedy on the stand). All these performances are great, though it's Jack Nicholson who steals the show as Col. Nathan R. Jessup, a tough as nails officer with a the attitude of a tiger shark. Nicholson deservedly won an Oscar nod for his portrayal of Jessup, and his character is the centerpiece of an already tight cast.
A Few Good Men: Special Edition is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen. As with the original bare-bones disc released by Columbia, this edition of A Few Good Men looks excellent. Colors are natural and bright with blacks being thick and dark. Edge enhancement was kept to a minimum, as well as compression and digital artifacting. Grain and dirt were not present. This is an excellent version of the film. Hats off to the Columbia DVD people for putting out this sucker.
Audio is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as the original Dolby 2.0 mix. The new 5.1 remix is very good, though nothing overly impressive. This is a courtroom drama, so the bulk of the sound channels through the front speaker, with back rear speakers being used predominantly for Marc Shaiman's simple yet evocative score. Dialogue, music, and effects were all balanced well. Also included are a Portuguese Dolby 2.0 surround mix as well as English Closed Captions, plus subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai.
A Few Good Men: Special Edition includes a new batch of extras that were not available on the original A Few Good Men edition. First up is a feature length commentary by director Rob Reiner. The commentary is not the most exciting ever taped, and Reiner has a lot of spots where he just watches the film in silence. He's clearly not at ease doing this track (and has stated in the past that they make him uncomfortable), and this track is rather sluggish. He usually talks about actors and their roles, and how this character's growth led to this and that, et cetera. It's all fairly unexciting, and though it will be nice for fans of the film to hear, it's not going to win any awards as one of the great commentary tracks on DVD.
Next up is an over thirty minute documentary entitled "Code Of Conduct," featuring interviews with Reiner, Sorkin, and much of the cast. Though there aren't really any visual "behind-the-scenes" moments, the cast and crew talk candidly about the history and making of the film. In one of the most moving moments, Sorkin discusses now deceased character actor J.T. Walsh (who played Markinson in the film) and his impact in films (noting that there will never be a character actor like Walsh again). On a side note, Walsh was one of the best character actors ever to appear in films, and I highly recommend seeking out some of his best work, including Breakdown, Sling Blade and The Big Picture. Though the makers of this documentary were able to get much of the cast for interviews, Cruise and Moore are decidedly absent, and interviews from 1992 are used instead. For fans looking to get a glimpse into the characters and motivations of the script, "Code Of Conduct" is a very insightful piece.
Book ended with "Code Of Conduct" is a twelve minute feature titled "From Stage to Screen with Aaron Sorkin and Rob Reiner," a discussion/interview with the two men about bringing the play A Few Good Men to the silver screen. Sorkin discusses A Few Good Men's origins (cocktail napkins) as well as his excitement seeing it first performed on the stage, then the screen. A nice companion piece to the film and all you "West Wing" junkies.
Finally there are the typical production notes, as well as some theatrical trailers and filmographies. The three trailers include a full frame versions of A Few Good Men and Cruise's Jerry Maguire, and a non-anamorphic trailer for the Demi Moore film The Juror.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A Few Good Men: Special Edition is a very nice package. The movie is engrossing and well acted, the disc is packed with nice supplements, and the video and audio portions well done. A Few Good Men: Special Edition is a worthy addition to your DVD library.
If you're a fan of political thrillers, courtroom dramas or John Grisham novels (of which A Few Good Men could have easily derived from), A Few Good Men: Special Edition will be worth the money you slap down. I suggest that you get out your old copy and throw it up on eBay and get to the store as fast as you can! With a great transfer, decent sound and a nice collection of extras, A Few Good Men: Special Edition is worth just about anything…except maybe the truth!
I'll dispense with any DVD Verdict/A Few Good Men courtroom jokes and just say "innocent!" Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by director Rob Reiner
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