In one of the most telling scenes in this movie, Navy Lieutenant Commander Jo Galloway (Demi Moore), a lawyer who is helping to defend two Marines on trial for murder, is asked why she likes these guys so much. And she replies, `Because they stand on a wall, and they say nothing is going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch'.' Which veritably sums up the sense of duty and honor which underscores the conflict of `A Few Good Men,' directed by Rob Reiner, and starring Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise. There is a code by which a good Marine must live and die, and it is: Unit, Corps, God, Country. But to be valid, that code must also include truth and justice; and if they are not present, can the code stand? Which is the question asked by director Reiner, who examines the parameters of that code with this film, which centers on the murder of a young Private First Class named William Santiago, who was killed while stationed at the Marine Corps base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The case draws the attention of Commander Galloway, Special Counsel for Internal Affairs in the Judge Advocate General's Corps in Washington, D.C. Galloway, taking into consideration the impeccable service records of the two Marines charged with the crime, convinces her superiors that a thorough investigation is warranted in this case, though there are those in high places who would rather see this one plea bargained and put to rest.
Galloway persists, however, believing that Santiago's death may have resulted from a `Code Red,' a method of disciplinary hazing employed in certain circles of the Corps, though illegal. And if this was a Code Red, the real question is, who gave the order? Ultimately, her tenacity prevails, but though Galloway is a seasoned lawyer, she has little actual courtroom experience, so Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Cruise) is assigned to the case, along with Lieutenant Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak), with Galloway, as ranking officer, to assist. Kaffee, the son of a legendary lawyer, has skated through the first nine months of his Naval career, successfully plea bargaining forty-four cases. Outwardly upbeat and personable, Kaffee seems more concerned with his softball game than he does with the time he has to spend on the job. But underneath, he's coping with living his life in the shadow of his late father's reputation, which is an issue with which he must come to terms if he is to successfully effect the outcome of this case. And on this one he will have a formidable opponent: Colonel Nathan R. Jessup (Nicholson), who commands the base at Guantanamo.
As Jessup, Nicholson gives a commanding performance, and once he enters the film you can sense the tension he brings to it, which begins to swell immediately, and which Reiner does a great job of maintaining right up to the end. Jessup is a soldier of the old guard, a man of narrow vision and a particular sense of duty; to Jessup there's two ways of doing things: His way and the wrong way. He's a man who-- as he says-- eats breakfast three hundred yards away from the enemy, and he's not about to let a couple of lawyers in dress whites intimidate him. And that's exactly the attitude Nicholson brings to this role. When he speaks, you not only hear him loud and clear, you believe him. It's a powerful performance and, as you would expect from Nicholson, entirely convincing and believable.
Cruise, also, gives what is arguably one of the best performances of his career as Kaffee. He perfectly captures the aloofness with which Kaffee initially regards the case, as well as the determination with which he pursues it later. Cruise is convincing in the role, and some of the best scenes in the film are the ones he plays opposite Nicholson in the courtroom, the most memorable being one in which Kaffee exclaims to Jessup, `I want the truth!' to which Jessup replies, `You can't handle the truth!' And the atmosphere fairly crackles.
Moore is outstanding, as well, and she manages to hold her own and make her presence felt even in the scenes dominated by Nicholson and Cruise. It's a fine piece of acting by Moore, who deserves more than just a passing mention for it. Also turning in notable performances are Pollak, whose dry humor adds such an extra touch to the film, and Wolfgang Bodison, who makes an impressive screen debut as Lance Corporal Dawson, on of the Marines on trial for the murder of Santiago.
The supporting cast includes Kiefer Sutherland (Kendrick), Kevin Bacon (Ross), James Marshall (Downey), J.T. Walsh (Markinson), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Hammaker) and Christopher Guest (Dr. Stone). A powerful drama, superbly delivered by Reiner, `A Few Good Men' is a thought provoking, unforgettable motion picture that makes you take pause for a moment to consider some things that are for the most part out of sight and out of mind. Like who is on that wall tonight, and are we safe because of him. And it makes you reflect upon some things perhaps too often taken for granted. And that's what really makes this film so good; and it's all a part of the magic of the movies. I rate this one 10/10.