There is something nostalgic about courtroom dramas…
Remembering just a few in this genre – we have had some memorable movies from B.R.Chopra’s Kanoon to Subhash Ghai‘s Meri Jung that were set in courtrooms in a battle of arguments with the good vs evil swinging from one end to other. As life has moved on, the action in movies has also featured the personnel struggles and protagonists working outside the law more and more. Some of the recent movies like Pink or Section 375 show the crime and police proceedings as well as the courtroom.
A Few Good Men
|Producer||:||Rob Reiner, David Brown, Andrew Scheinman|
|Screenplay||:||Aaron Sorkin||Based On||:||A Few Good Men By Aaron Sorkin|
|Screenplay by||:||Aaron Sorkin|
|Music By||:||Marc Shaiman|
|Production Companies||:||Castle Rock Entertainment|
|Distributed by||:||Columbia Pictures|
December 9, 1992 (Westwood)
December 11, 1992 (US)
Tom Cruise (Lieutenant (junior grade) Daniel Alastair Kaffee, USN, JAG Corps), Jack Nicholson ( Colonel Nathan R. Jessup, USMC), Demi Moore (Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway, USN, JAG Corps), Kevin Bacon (Captain Jack Ross, USMC, Judge Advocate Division), Kiefer Sutherland (First Lieutenant Jonathan James Kendrick, USMC), Kevin Pollak (Lieutenant (junior grade) Sam Weinberg, USN, JAG Corps), Wolfgang Bodison (Lance Corporal Harold W. Dawson, USMC), James Marshall (Private First Class Louden Downey, USMC), J. T. Walsh (Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Andrew Markinson, USMC), J. A. Preston (Judge (Colonel) Julius Alexander Randolph, USMC), Michael DeLorenzo (rivate First Class William T. Santiago, USMC), Noah Wyle (Corporal Jeffrey Owen Barnes, USMC), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Corporal Carl Edward Hammaker, USMC), Xander Berkeley (Captain Whitaker, USN), Matt Craven (Lieutenant Dave Spradling, USN, JAG Corps), John M. Jackson ( Captain West, USN, JAG Corps), Christopher Gues (Commander (Dr.) Stone, USN, MC), Joshua Malina (Jessup’s clerk, Tom, USMC), Harry Caesar (newspaper stand operator Luther), and others…
Recently, I had a chance to watch a 1992 hit film called “A Few Good Men“. Carrying some heavy-weight stars and power-packed performances, I enjoyed the film and here are my thoughts on it on behalf of Team Thinkerviews.
The background is armed forces here – U.S. Marines. We see a brief encounter featuring three young men that does not end well for one of them.
We meet a passionate, talented lawyer Joanne Galloway who is trying to win for herself the right to represent two young marines – Lance Corporal Harold Dawson and Private First Class Louden Downey. These two are facing court-martial on the charge that they pretty much murdered one of their team members called Santiago. Joanne has investigated the case and while she has a reputation for her thoroughness and professionalism, she is not considered a good lawyer for a courtroom trial by her superiors.
Instead, the job of representing Dawson and Downey goes to young, inexperienced lawyer called Daniel Kaffee. Daniel prefers to settle his cases outside courtrooms and has a panache for plea bargains. Forced to work together, Joanne and Daniel team up with Sam (whose job it is to keep Daniel in line) to visit the naval base in Cuba where the incident happened.
So, we find out that Santiago was one of the weaker marines. He had been requesting a transfer from the base due to health reasons and had also accused Lance Corporal Dawson of shooting across the border illegally. So, it looks like Dawson had a reason to kill him. But Joanne suspects that this was a case of “Code Red”. Code Red is an unofficial tradition of US Marines, when they discipline one of their own with non-traditional methods – sometimes including privations and punishment.
This of course is hard to prove as all documents are indicating that no such thing as ‘Code Red’ exists. All of the soldiers at the base can and do testify that they were expressly forbidden by their commander Colonel Nathan Jessop to harm Santiago.
Against his professional judgement, Daniel Kaffee is persuaded to fight the case in the courtroom. Can he win this battle?
As you can see above, the story is riveting and highly dramatic. Aaron Sorkin wrote this first as a play for Broadway and then it was adapted for the big screen.
One of the delights of this film is to watch young Tom Cruise and Demi Moore and remember how gorgeous and energetic they were. Jack Nicholson plays Nathan Jessop and has got some of the best lines of the script. All three of these supported by rest of the cast make the film very enjoyable as they bring forth the passion and struggles of people caught into this process that will change the life of two young people irrevocably.
The film raises the issue that the basis of a soldier’s life is to ‘obey orders’. There is a strict chain of command and on a battleground, they do not think. They follow orders, they do what they are trained for and this is what makes armies effective. Not a lot of emphasis on the individual thinking and questioning morality of the fight. But how far can a soldier go, how blindly can they obey their orders? And if they do, the results are whose fault? Is it the soldier who is guilty of the crime or his superior who gave the order in the first place? These are the questions that the film provokes and although you may predict what is going to happen next in the film, it is these undercurrents that make it worth watching.
The courtroom part of the film lives up to the expectation as the proceedings keep you interested enough, although there might not be enough suspense for some of the viewers. The film also made me think about how everyone works in quite a complex environment. But when any decisions or actions will be examined in a courtroom, it all boils down to paperwork rather than people who made those decisions and why they made them. It is the words written on paper and records that the court wants to see and if those are not as per the procedures, then no matter how good-intentioned the actions were, their makers face the judgement they never dreamt of.
And so it is that good men end up facing the wrong end of a gun barrel and one error of judgement on part of the superior officer leads to end of so many good lives and careers. While the commanders like Colonel Jessop are used to make the decisions that affect the lives of his soldiers and sometimes their death, they do need to be careful to not get carried away with the power. Here, he says how he is responsible to provide security to American citizens and does what he considers necessary to ensure this. He is not prepared to be questioned on the methods by which he ensures this. And that’s where the civil rights come in and clash with the military mindset.
The film was a commercial success when it was released and still remains an entertaining and thought-provoking watch for those looking for a legal thriller set in armed forces and courtroom battlegrounds…
- The only actor who reprises his role from Broadway production was – Joshua Malina.
- Aaron Sorkin – played a cameo in this film as a lawyer
Around 8 out of 10.
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