Sunday, April 11, 2010

You can't handle the star power

Cruise, Moore, and Pollak stare into the legal abyss. Serious business.

A Few Good Men
has numerous flaws, but I am willing to overlook each and every one of them because of how incredibly entertaining and energetic the film is.

Directed by Rob Reiner, who always manages to make films with such an endearing old-fashioned flair, this film represents the bare bones of what makes a conventional court drama riveting. Yes, it's entirely too predictable for a film of its nature, which is perhaps due to the structurally faulty script by Aaron Sorkin, yet the journey to the explicit revelation (that most capable audiences are fully aware of by the time that it is actually revealed) is surprisingly intense and enjoyable.

Though the script is structurally flawed, Sorkin's dialogue is consistently brilliant. The characters speak a language that is witty, biting, and wonderfully true to who they are and what they believe in.

Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) is a recent Harvard Law School graduate working in the U.S. Navy. He is assigned to defend two Marines accused of murdering a fellow Marine at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base because of his reputation for arranging plea bargins. Kaffee is assited by his co-counsel, Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak), who hopes to carry as little responsibility as possible.

Lt. Commander JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore), who originally wanted the case, is instead assigned as the case's lead counsel, much to her dismay. But as time passes, Galloway begins to gain some respect for Kaffee and see beyond his razor-sharp cockiness. While Moore may not have been well-suited for the role, her unquestionable chemistry with Cruise, as shown in the scene where she awkwardly asks him out to dinner (no, this is not a unnecessarily romance, though it clearly could have been), complements the film extraordinarily well.

Col. Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson), the commanding officer of the two Marines, is a frightening force of nature that is almost impossible to reckon with. He believes in protecting his country and is serious about his duties, yet he relishes the power he has rightfully earned. Nicholson, who has limited screen-time, plays Jessep with a devilish edge and slyness that only Nicholson seem to possess. And, of course, there is that harrowing quote near the end of the film...

Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland, K.T. Walsh also deliver strong performances in small, but significant roles.

But here is a quintessential nineties film that shows the very essence of star power. An epic battle of persuasion. There is so much high-charged energy radiating from the actors that the film becomes more than a typical courtroom drama. In fact, it's as thrilling as a quality summer blockbuster.

Cruise is particularly excellent here in a lead role that shows off his best qualities as an actor; he manages to give an arrogant hotshot a load of boyish vulnerability and charm, especially in the heart-to-heart conversation Kaffee has with his co-counsel. Kaffee's desperation to live up to his father's name is cliched, yet touching and effective as played by Cruise.

However, the modern film industry no longer depend on star power. Star power, which has been endlessly discussed, is a concept of yesteryear. While big stars are still a valuable asset to any film trying to get financing, it is no longer the primary ingredient to a box-office hit or Oscar winner. Recent box-office moneymakers are not led by an ensemble of big stars, but by innovative technology, word-of-mouth, and a captivating story. As it should be. But I miss the glorious days where star power made a film a must-see, though I bet a viewing of Ocean's Twelve strongly discourages that mindset.

A Few Good Men made me nostalgic for a time where an all-star cast was a prominent subgenre, though that subgenre has long since evaporated into pure silliness. I realize that this is perhaps a good thing, but I sure loved it while it lasted.

While A Few Good Men is admittedly contrived and flawed, its high-wire entertainment value is undeniable. I ignored some of its ambiguities and the obviousness of the inevitable revelation so I could sit back and embrace its awesome cast and stunning genuineness. A


  1. I need to see this film! I need to see it so-o-o-o-o bad.

    Maybe a cruise-a-thon is in order.


  2. I've not seen this, although it's been on the tv so many times. Next time it comes on I defo. will watch! xx

  3. I agree. Sometimes sheer entertainment takes over the heart and the head must succomb!

  4. @Simon
    Yes, you need to see this. I think this is probably the best Tom Cruise performance I've ever seen. Better than his performances in Rain Man, Jerry Maguire, or Magnolia. Just my opinion, though. A lot of people say that he is upstaged by Jack Nicholson, which isn't really possible since Nicholson is only in several scenes.

    And Tom Cruise is severely underrated. I don't care if he's a Scientologist and jumps couches. He's one helluva an actor.

    I saw it on TV so many times that I thought everyone must have seen it before because it's always on. I borrowed the DVD from the library and I was like, wow, great movie! Kinda regret not seeing it all the times it was on TV because I could've discovered it sooner.

    @Burning Reels
    Yes, completely agree.

    But there are also pure entertainment with flaws that are much less subtle. But whatever. I love great entertainment. That's why I loved movies in the first place.

  5. "A Few Good Men" stands as one of three films in which I actually do not loathe Tom Cruise. This film really shows he can do comedy and drama and make them look effortless. This is one of my favorite movies, but somehow every time I watch it I remember all over again how funny it is.

    And how I could die happy if I never had to hear anyone say "You can't handle the truth!" ever again.

  6. Tom Cruise is amazing in A Few Good Men. He's so charming, funny, and handles the drama real well. Just...a really underrated performance. And this movie is hilarious in so many ways. The biting wit of Sorkin's script, complete with the court-room drama, is just fantastic.

    No one says "You can't handle the truth" better than Jack Nicholson. Don't even try to top that.