In the early 90's, one film taught us how to handle the truth.
That film was an all-star cast courtroom drama known as A Few Good Men.
Starring the likes of Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon and Kiefer Sutherland, the movie could have easily been a dull affair seeing as it all revolved around a trial but somehow it managed to be not only universally accessible but actually surprisingly gripping and memorable.
The plot follows a couple of US Navy men as they are arrested for the murder of a fellow soldier. Cruise's cocky military lawyer Daniel is hired to defend them and what could have easily been an open-and-shut case turns out to be much more complicated than that as the accused claim to have been acting under orders. We pretty much know who is to blame early on but it's whether Daniel can prove it or not in court that becomes a primary source of suspense. Also, the military "code" and its unspoken extra rules constantly get in the way of gathering valuable evidence. Whether it's Sutherland's harsh Lieutenant, Nicholson's intimidating Colonel or the young defendants themselves, the truth is one that's hard to bring to light when these guys are the main players in this subtle game of justice, codes and morals. The perfect performances do certainly help to make this movie as watchable as it is. Cruise brings energy to his character and, although his unhealthy obsession with baseball feels a little forced, he manages to be a likeable douche you actually root for throughout. Moore isn't the most memorable part of this movie but she plays her part well. It's actually refreshing to see a female character be a love interest but not letting that be the sole focus of her being: the film prioritises the story, the case at hand, as do its characters, never getting side-tracked into romantic fluff, which would mostly be distracting.
A Few Good Men feels a little bit like a really high-budget pilot to a TV series in that it opens with a murder and its resolution is nicely self-contained, leaving the door open for further cases to be explored. In fact, the film was based on a play by Aaron Sorkin, who would go on to write the likes of The West Wing, The Newsroom and even The Social Network. It really is a testament to how good Sorkin is at writing this kind of drama that a film based on a play of this type can be this compelling. The interchanges between the characters pre-trial go from playful to subtly biting and the dialogs during the courtroom parts can get pretty explosive, especially by the time the good old Colonel makes his way there. The film is dramatic and its plot is serious but it feels fresh and it has a light-hearted feel to it at times, occasionally bringing in a little comic relief. After all, you've got Kevin Pollak in there, scary Jack Bauer, Tom Cruise getting drunk and going ape-shit and the whole thing is directed by Rob "This Is Spinal Tap" Reiner so there was always going to be a couple of laughs in there. The film is very much of its time since, if it was released these days, it would no doubt include a huge twist of some kind. A Few Good Men does have its mini twists and turns but it doesn't go for cheap gimmicks and is all the better for it.
Overall, this is one of the most entertaining and fun courtroom dramas you're likely to see (though Body Of Evidence was pretty unintentionally hilarious). You've got a brilliant cast, some terrific writing and an involving storyline in a well-paced, never dull flick, what more do you want? Cuba Gooding Jr.?
He's in the film too.
Worth checking out.