A Few Good Men

Original Release Date: 11 December 1992

Written By: Aaron Sorkin

Directed By: Rob Reiner

Cast: Tom Cruise, Jack Nicolson, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Pollak

Runtime: 138 minutes


SPOILER-FREE SUMMARY

The film follows the investigation of the death of a marine on the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Private First Class William T. Santiago (Michael DeLorenzo) dies at the opening of the film, and the story focuses on the two Marines involved in the incident—Lance Corporal Harold W. Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) & Private Louden Downey (James Marshall)—and the JAG Corps lawyers assigned to defend them at their Court Martial in Washington, D.C.

Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway (Moore) and Lieutenants Daniel Kaffee (Cruise) and Sam Weinberg (Pollak) are the lawyers for the defense. Lt. Kaffee is a young hot-shot who has won every case he has been handed while never actually stepping foot inside a courtroom; he is content to take the easy way out on this case and continue his winning streak, but is challenged by his colleagues to stand up for what he believes in. The three lawyers struggle to make their case opposite the prosecutor Captain Jack Ross (Bacon), while Gitmo base commander Colonel Nathan Jessup (Nicholson), his executive officer, Lt. Colonel Matthew Markinson (J.T. Walsh), and the victim’s platoon commander, Lieutenant Jonathan Kendrick (Sutherland), providing inconsistent information about the night in question.


THE BREAKDOWN

[SPOILERS AHEAD]

United States Naval Base, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba: we see the crime committed right at the outset, as PFC Santiago is bound with duct tape in his bunk by Corporal Dawson and Private Downey. It's a strong choice to show the act right at the top: there can never be any doubt in the audience's mind throughout the remainder of the film that this thing happened–the only question is why?

A Few Good Men has a distinctive opening credits sequence, in which we see a Marin Corps Drill Team–portrayed by the Texas A&M University's Corps of Cadets Fish Drill Team–performing a series of precision rifle exercises.  It's an impressive and intimidating sight:  the coordination and control.  It's inclusion underlines the tremendous amount of training and discipline members of the armed forces undergo.

As the opening titles wind down, Commander JoAnne Galloway, Special Counsel for Internal Affairs, walks into frame.  Jo is rehearsing a speech on her way across the Navy Yard.  At her destination, she addresses several senior JAG officers, and inevitably fumbles her words because she prepared too hard.  This sequence sets up the broad arc of the film:  the process by which the fate of Dawson & Downey will be decided.  And then, in case you weren't paying attention, here's Xander Berkeley as Captain Whitaker to give us yet another recap for our remaining protagonists, Kaffe & Weinberg, at a fairly standard conference room meeting.  Danny is assigned the case in question, and Sam assigned as superfluous co-counsel ("I have no responsibilities here whatsoever.")

This wasn't our introduction to Danny, however, that came in the previous scene, where Danny is simultaneously berating his softball team and trying to avoid an impromptu field plea conference with another JAG attorney.

Cruise delivers a bit of a brainy monologue that we should try to remember because it will come back into play later:

“If you ask for jail time, I’m gonna file a Motion to Dismiss... and if the MTD is denied I’ll file a motion in limine seeking to obtain an evidentiary ruling in advance, and after that I’m gonna file against pre-trial confinement, and you’re gonna spend the next three months going blind on paperwork because a Signalman Second Class bought and smoked a dime bag of oregano.”

Kaffee wins the meeting, of course.  Later that day, after the meeting we discussed earlier, he heads across the Navy Yard with Sam to meet up with Galloway.  She briefs her juniors about the victim, their clients and hands over her files.  It'd be an understatement to say that Danny and JoAnne don't exactly get along:  they're both incredibly self-assured about their own abilities, but resentful of the other's involvement.  

Next, we get a flashback sequence, in which we see a montage of the time that PFC Santiago (Michael DeLorenzo) spent at Gitmo, accompanied in voiceover by a letter he wrote seeking a transfer off the base.  As a stand-in for the actual Guantanamo Bay, these sequences were filmed at an abandoned army barracks in Southern California.  Willy Santiago describes his difficulties during training, including dizziness, nausea and chest pains.  The voiceover fades over near the end into the voice of Jack Nicholson.  Enter our antagonists:  Colonel Nathan Jessup, Colonel Markinson, and Lieutenant Kendrick.  Nicholson is unassailable in his commitment to character, he swaggers sitting down, perfectly calm and full of rage at the same time.  

According to Director Rob Reiner, "Nicholson… can say the word “fuck” better than just about anybody else—except maybe De Niro.”

The trio discuss Santiago's situation, how he's written letters "to everyone but Santa Claus" requesting a transfer off the base. Markinson is in favor of granting the transfer, both on the grounds of merit (or lack thereof) and for his own protection. Jessup and Kendrick disagree, asserting that the young marine simply needs better training.

The conversation also makes reference to an illegal fence line shooting, which will be an important plot point later.  It's important to the third act that this scene is included: while we don't really get much new information about the victim or the crime, the groundwork for the climax of the film is laid right here.

We know, twenty minutes into the film, that Jessup is responsible for the death of Santiago, and that he is lying about it in every subsequent scene until the climax.

This fact reframes the story from being about the facts of the case to being about the process of the case: will Daniel Kaffee be able to overcome his own internal demons and win the day, or succumb to them, letting down his colleagues and his clients.

Back in the present, Danny and Sam finally meet with their clients, who have arrived in Washington. Neither Dawson nor Kaffee really put their best feet forward in this first exchange, and as a result, form an animosity that hovers in the air whenever they share a room until the very end of the film. Kaffee thinks that the Gitmo Marines are camo-covered robots, and Dawson would probably share Galloway’s sentiments about the Lieutenant being a slick smart-ass who gives the uniform a bad name: more lawyer than officer. Also in this scene, Corporal Dawson explains what a Code Red is, as well as describing the fenceline incident referenced in Santiago's letter. It's worth noting at this point, that this is Wolfgang Bodison's first acting role. Rob Reiner, on the director's commentary track on the DVD, recounts that Wolfgang was an assistant location manager at Castle Rock until the production staff offered him a place in front of the camera.  

Later on, Jack Ross, the prosecuting attorney in the Dawson & Downey case, comes in to see Danny.  Kevin Bacon is great in this role:  his physical bearing adds a lot to his proficiency with Sorkin's precise dialogue.  Before he even opens his mouth, you can tell he's career USMC and damn good at his job.  Ross offers Kaffee a deal for his clients that is more than fair (we are led to infer later that he was pressured to get rid of the case rather than let it go to trial) and then gives Danny an interesting additional piece of information. "I think you should know, the platoon commander, Lieutenant Jonathan Kendrick, held a meeting with the men and specifically told them not to touch Santiago." Why is he sharing this...?  (Portentous Music!

On the way to his car, Danny is ambushed by Galloway, who has decided to bury the hatchet–and maybe a little too deeply:  she's going to Guantanamo with them, having gotten herself signed on as co-counsel for Dawson and Downey. Kaffee is less than thrilled.

Following that, we are treated to a brief but great-looking scene in autumnal suburban D.C., with an interesting moment when we get a glimpse into the character of Sam Weinberg.  He is a determined lawyer but also a devoted family man.  A moral center of the story, in his own way. Sam and Danny are discussing their clients, and going through the inevitable moral/ethical dilemma faced by defense attorneys:  is the client guilty?  What should their fate be?  Sam sums up his own opinion thusly:  “I believe every word of their story, and I think they oughta go to jail for the rest of their lives…”  His restrained hostility towards the young marines they've been charged with defending will be explored further later on.

In Cuba, Danny, Sam & JoAnne finally meet Jessup, Markinson & Kendrick.  The Colonel, naturally, lies his OD Green ass off about Santiago.  Nicholson's performance in this movie is flawless:  Jessup is never not in control.  He holds court at their outdoor lunch meeting, prideful and superior–we can't wait to see Kaffee take him down.

But in the very first meeting, we are given some important information about Danny–or rather, about his father, Lionel Kaffee. Kaffee Sr. was a legendary lawyer, and, as Jessup explains, took on southern segregation in a fictional case, Jefferson v. Madison County School District (similar to the actual Brown v. Board of Education) but died seven years before the events of the film. 

Cruise's performance in this part of the scene is incredibly intricate and specific:  Danny has heard these hero stories about his father his entire life, and the weight of attempting to live up to all of it crushes him more and more every time, behind his mask of politeness.

The expression on his face in that moment is perfect.

Kaffee, Weinberg and Galloway move on to tour Santiago's room in the barracks, where they discover a plot point added to the movie that wasn't included in the original play:  the clothes in the closet.  [Top:  Santiago, Act I.  Bottom:  Kaffee, Act III.]  According to Sorkin and Reiner in the DVD bonus features, this was added to the film version of the story to fill a hole in the stage version.  This will come up later when Danny is interrogating Colonel Jessup on the witness stand–one of the softer body blows Kaffee lands before the TKO.

While in the barracks room, we are witness to one of Sutherland's best tough-guy-ish acting moments, pre-Jack Bauer, as he shuts down Danny's friendliness.  

KAFFEE:  Lieutenant Kendrick, may I call you Jon?

KENDRICK:  No, you may not.

KAFFEE:  Have I done something to offend you?

KENDRICK:  No, I like all you navy boys.  Every time we gotta go someplace to fight, you fellas always give us a ride.

Kiefer's eyes are so full of disdain here, it's great.  There's no chance this guy isn't going to turn out to be the villain we all want him to be.  And we don't have long to wait for confirmation of that instinct:  when Danny and others get back stateside, they discover from their clients that it was indeed, Lt. Kendrick that ordered them to give their squad mate a Code Red.  After the first meeting with the entire platoon, the Lieutenant came to Dawson & Downey's room and gave them specific and contrary orders–presumably conveyed on behalf of Colonel Jessup, and with either his explicit knowledge or implicit blessing.  The two young marines weren't acting on their own, they were just following orders.

With this revelation still ringing in their ears, Kaffee and Galloway are off to see Jack Ross.  They tell him about the order, and Ross reveals that he has been given "a lot of room on this one to spare Jessup and the Corps any embarrassment," offering them an even sweeter plea deal.  Rather than face twelve years in prison, Dawson and Downey can be home in six months.  When Danny & JoAnne take this offer back to their clients, they turn it down, and we're off to the arraignment, and then eventually to trial, which takes up the bulk of the remaining 85 minutes of runtime.

But first, Danny has to have his crisis of confidence:  he wants to have himself removed, and new counsel assigned to the walking dead men in his charge.  Jo challenges him in an intense and emotional scene, calling him out for his cowardice and for squandering his potential.  It's a powerful performance by Moore, as she ably displays Galloway's idealism and hopefulness, but also her stubbornness.

Jo's words aren't the only ones that spur Danny to action; he is visited by his own as well. In a reference to his snappy little speech in his introductory scene, Kaffee hears a background character at a bar use the same turn of phrase he himself employed at the beginning of the film.  

"Man in Bar" potrayed by Aaron Sorkin himself.

"So I told Duncan, 'look, you wanna take this to court, you're gonna force me to file like nine kinds of discovery motions and you're gonna spend the better part of a year going blind on paperwork because a ninety-year-old man misread the Delaware insurance code.'"

It sounds so cheap and hack coming out of the mouth of this stranger, we can see the contrast between Danny's possible futures: righteousness, and sleaze. Reiner describes A Few Good Men as a bit of a process story: we watch as Kaffee decides to shoulder the mantle of his destiny, so to speak, and take on this case as the manifestation of accepting his father's legacy and making peace with his self-imposed internal friction. "He's being dragged, kicking and screaming, into manhood." So when he stands up at the arraignment and declare for the record that his clients are not guilty, it's no so much a surprise as a relief.

The arraignment scene is followed by a well-crafted montage sequence, in which Cruise narrates their strategies over the three weeks of trial prep.

About half the movie takes place in the courtroom, and Rob Reiner does a good job of placing his cameras to keep the experience from getting visually static or monotonous.  This was the first time that Reiner had made a film in 2:35 aspect ratio–the anamorphic format was chosen to give the story scope and depth.  Aside from the regular close-up shots, a multitude of angles within the room is exploited for medium and establishing shots:

Anyone who has ever seen a courtroom drama will feel comfortable in these sequences; both sides make their opening statements and then bring up witnesses to question.  The lawyers spar with one another and attempt to curry favor with the judge and jury (in this setting, referred to as "Court Members") all very similarly to civilian trials portrayed in such media as Law & Order.  Captain Ross, on behalf of the government, presents his case first, calling the NIS agent whom Santiago wrote to about Cpl. Dawson's fence line shooting, establishing a motive for the murder.  

He then interviews the Guantanamo base doctor who examined the victim on the night in question, played by the legendary writer-director-musician-actor-chameleon Christopher Guest. 

The doctor's testimony proves trying for the cohesion of the defense team, and sparks a shouting match between Galloway and Weinberg after the court has adjourned.

This moment is one of the highlights of the film, as we get a rare opportunity to lift the hood on these characters' motivations and hear from them directly and explicitly. JoAnne has noticed that Sam is less than enthusiastic about defending their clients–that he is judging them for their actions, but hasn't really said why.

JO:  Why do you hate them so much?!

SAM:  They beat up on a weakling.  That's all they did.  Alright?  The rest of this is just smoke-filled-coffeehouse crap.  They tortured and tormented a weaker kid!  They didn't like him, so they killed him!  And why?  Because he couldn't run very fast!

...Why do you like them so much?

JO:  'Cuz they stand on a wall.  And they say nothin's gonna hurt you tonight, not on my watch.

The two present very different sides of the same moral coin:  Dawson & Downey are symbols both of protection and of persecutionSam sees them as bullies, but Jo sees them as guardians, when in fact the truth is that they are both. They joined the Marines because they wanted to live their lives by a certain code, as Cpl. Dawson says to Kaffee, yet they allowed themselves to be compromised by following an unethical and illegal order given to them by their superiors.

Pollak's absolute conviction in this scene is even more impressive when elucidated by an anecdote he told on his Chat Show, two decades later, about how difficult he found it to yell at his co-star Demi Moore. This is one of a host of apropos stories shared between the host and his guest, Rob Reiner, on the extremely entertaining episode #108 of Kevin Pollak's Chat Show, including one about Pollak doing his Jack Nicholson impression on set (although not actually to Nicholson's face.)

Another highlight of the film is the questioning of Corporal Jeffrey Barnes, played by a young pre-ER Noah Wyle.  While both sides are attempting to manipulate Barnes's testimony to establish context for their version of the attack on Santiago, Kaffee executes a lightning-strike of a redirect. With a bit of mock-confusion, he brilliantly reverses the gains Ross had made with the court members

Following Barnes's testimony comes "The Apostle Jon Kendrick", as Danny refers to him, who lies unblinkingly on the stand about whether or not he has ever ordered code red.  

Next we have to address an important bit of story that we've overlooked so far. There is a subplot involving Lieutenant Colonel Markinson, Jessup's executive officer at Gitmo. Markinson, who was a counterintelligence expert before being stationed at Cuba, disappears during the trial, only to reappear just in time to deliver crucial information to Kaffee, and then promptly commits suicide over the pain of his complicity in Santiago's death. In a letter to the the parents of the victim, he writes, "your son is dead for only one reason:  I wasn't strong enough to stop it." The defense team were counting on the Lt. Colonel's testimony to win the day: he admitted to Danny that Jessup and Kendrick were lying about giving the order to have Santiago disciplined, and claimed to be willing to say as much in open court.

Markinson's death sends Danny into a tailspin; he despairs over his abilities as a lawyer and the vanishing prospect of winning the trial. Compounding this tragedy is the fact that Private Downey, that day in court, admitted to Capt. Ross that he wasn't actually in the room when the order to give Santiago a Code Red was issued: only Dawson was. This makes Louden Downey's value as a witness approximately nil.

Jo and Sam each try to get Danny out of his drunken anguish, and Sam manages to break through eventually... but not before an absolutely epic blowup by Kaffee after Galloway suggests subpoenaing Colonel Jessup. Cruise screams and flails in a way not many actors can pull off while maintaining the emotional integrity of a scene and without looking ridiculous; Danny is sarcastic, wounded, and hurtful, ranting about the risks of going after Jessup and calling Jo "galactically stupid."

Galloway, understandable upset by the outburst, leaves the apartment, and Sam, faithful friend that his is to Danny, manages build Danny's confidence back up. Danny is sitting on the couch, and unconsciously betrays what this is all about:  his frustration, his fear–his concern about his relationship with his father's legend.

DANNY:  Is your father proud of you?  ...I think my father would have enjoyed seeing me graduate from law school...I think he would've liked that an awful lot.  

SAM:  Did I ever tell you I wrote a paper about your father in College?   ...one of the best trial lawyers ever.  And if I were Dawson & Downey and I had a choice between you or your father to represent me in this case I'd choose you any day of the week and twice on sunday.  You should've seen yourself thunder away at Kendrick.

DANNY:  Would you put Jessup on the stand?

SAM:  No.

DANNY:  Do you think my father would have?

SAM:  With the evidence we got, not in a million years.  But here's the thing–and there's really no way of getting around this–neither Lionel Kaffee nor Sam Weinberg are lead counsel for the defense in the matter of U.S. v. Dawson & Downey.  So there's really only one question:  what would you do?

Danny rushes out to get JoAnne to come back, apologizing in the rain, and saying that he has changed his mind. The next morning, having gotten his second wind, Kaffee has an epiphany. Remember the closet from Santiago's quarters at Gitmo?  Well this is where that plot thread ties up. We aren't immediately privy to his inspiration,  but the three lawyers spring into action. Moments later, we're back in court, and it's time for the showdown. The entire film has been leading up to this confrontation; the double doors of the courtroom swing open to reveal Nicholson like King Kong, but with a chest full of fruit salad and an imperiously dignified scowl.

After the Colonel is sworn in, Kaffee has to stall for time, waiting for Sam to arrive; he treads water for a moment, reaffirming facts everyone already knows and, in the process, increasing Jessup's aggravation. Before too long, Weinberg arrives with two men in U.S. Air Force uniforms, and this is apparently the signal Danny has been waiting for to begin the questioning in earnest.  He proceeds to soften up the Colonel, asking him some basic questions over Capt. Ross's repeated objections.  ("Is the Colonel's underwear a matter of national security?"  Fantastic.) Danny walks right into the Jessup's expectations of him, and plays up the perceived lack or respect and appreciation for the Colonel's rank and lifelong commitment to protecting his country.  

The exploration of Santiago's final hours continues, but the Colonel refuses to allow his facade to slip, as Danny repeatedly toes the line of accusing him of lying. Jessup clearly believes that the system–personified by Captain Ross and Judge Randolph–will support and defend him, as he has supported and defended it his entire career. He is confident, he is smug, he is calm; until he is not.  Eventually Kaffee gets to him, and we all know what happens next.  Nicholson's mastery of his trade is fully in evidence as he and Cruise ramp up into the line we all know far too well to bother repeating here.

And just like that, it's over. Dawson's look of surprise at the admission is absolutely priceless, as he seeks affirmation in the faces of the others present. The trial is temporarily suspended so that the Colonel can be arrested by Captain Ross, though he struggles against the MPs and attempts to attack Kaffee. For a moment we get a look at just how formidable he must have been in his youth, contrasted with how impotent he has become; "I'm gonna rip the eyes outta your head, and piss in your dead skull! You fucked with the wrong marine!"  

Unbowed, Jessup is led off by the marine guards, and the remainder of the cast moves on to sentencing. Here, in the denouement, we are given a shades of grey verdict–victory qualified by a moral punch.  Dawson & Downey are convicted of Conduct Unbecoming and dishonorably discharged from the United States Marine Corps. Downey is confused by the result, but Dawson explains to him that they did do something wrong, "we were supposed to fight people who couldn't fight for themselves.  We were supposed to fight for Willy."  

On the DVD commentary, Director Reiner says about the ending, “I love the fact that we don’t have this ‘happy-go-lucky’ ending where everything works out perfectly for everyone because the fact of the matter is, this is not clear-cut. These men did, actually, kill somebody and they should not have done that. And even thought they were following an order that was in fact give by somebody else, they should have executed better judgment, and I love the fact that we have this kind of … not totally happy ending.”

Kaffee shares successive moments of detente with Dawson and Jo, and then admits to Ross that Sam's airmen had been a bluff for Jessup. Ross (seemingly happy to have lost the case, given what he now knows to be true) goes off to arrest Lt. Kendrick, and Danny takes a moment alone in the courtroom to appreciate his success as the music swells. 


Sorkinisms

While this movie has a plethora of quotable dialogue, expertly delivered, there aren't many textbook Sorkin phrases in it.  The rapid-fire delivery that he made himself famous for doesn't really pick up until Sports Night, the pace of a television script being inherently different than that of a film.  There are a couple of lines that will crop up later, notably on The West Wing:

"You were sick the day they taught Law at Law School."    Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) uses a phrase similar to this to criticize Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) in one of the early seasons. 

"...Any day of the week and twice on sunday,"  is an idiom also used by Leo McGarry (John Spencer) in a similar moment to Sam Weinberg's use.

THE MIGHTY SORKIN PLAYERS

First things first, let's introduce someone we're going to be seeing a lot of in Sorkin's projects:  Joshua Malina.  Best known in 2014 for his current run on Shonda RhimesScandal, he got his 1st, 4th, & 7th credited roles (of 67 to date) on Sorkin projects.  Aside from Sorkin himself, Malina may be the person we spend the most time with on this project.  In this film, he plays "Tom," Colonel Jessup's clerk, and has only two lines.  You have to start somewhere.

Also in this film is another longtime Sorkin collaborator, Ron Ostrow, playing as a marine guard at the Washington Navy Yard.  Ostrow will also show up in The West Wing, S60Charlie Wilson's War, and The Newsroom.

David Bowe  appears as an officer in the JAG captain's office near the beginning of the film, and also plays a doctor in Malice, our next installment.

And of course, there's Rob Reiner, director of this film, as well as The American President, who additionally appears as himself in an episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

So now let's do the character name game–using our powers of foreknowledge.  Here are the monikers that we are destined to see again in future installments of this series:

  • Daniel––I
  • Samuel––I
  • Matthew––I
  • William––I
  • Whitaker--I

Not a very impressive list up front, but it will fill up fast as we progress through these first few projects.

Dynamic Duo

Danny & Sam, our inaugural pair of best friend characters.  We can infer that their relationship is relatively new, as Danny has only been in the Navy for about nine months, and Sam is a bit older, so it's unlikely that they want to school together.  Still, they're as close as brothers:  natural complements to each other in personality and professional talents.  They have the easy humor characteristic of the Sorkin pairings, sparring with each other, challenging each other... 

There are a couple of scenes that well exemplify their relationship.  One comes towards the beginning of the story, when Sam & Danny are discussing their impending sojourn to Cuba.

SAM:  Don't forget to wear the Whites–very hot down there.

KAFFEE:  I don't like the Whites.

SAM:  Nobody likes the Whites, but we're going to Cuba.  You got dramamine?

KAFFEE:  Dramamine keeps you cool?

SAM:  No, dramamine keeps you from throwing up.  You get sick when you fly.

KAFFEE:  I get sick when I fly 'cuz I'm afraid of crashing into a large mountain.  I don't think dramamine will help.

SAM:  I got some oregano, I hear that works pretty good.

It's the subtle humor in this moment that works so well to flesh out the relationship between these two men.  As well crafted as the writing is, the scene is effective in conveying the connection between Danny & Sam in part because of the effortless was Pollak and Cruise play the humor:  they're not trying to impress each other, they already know each other.

And it's the depth of this knowledge that enables Sam to know just what to say to Danny when he has his crisis of confidence after Markinson's suicide.  He doesn't so much manipulate the younger lawyer, as find a way to reach Kaffee through the fog of his own fear and self-doubt.  This is the emotional climax of the film, when Danny decides to finally embrace his destiny–the battle with Jessup in court is merely the payoff, the reward for Danny doing what he was always meant to.

Like Father Like Son

Paternalism is the primary theme of A Few Good Men.  It comes in two forms:  explicitly, Daniel Kaffee's journey into accepting his father's legacy and shouldering his true potential, and implicitly, the military chain of command, and authority, represented by mostly Colonel Jessup, but also Lt. Kendrick (& peripherally Bacon's Capt. Ross, and J. A. Preston's Judge Colonel Julius Alexander Randolph.)  We'll take these two competing elements one at a time.

The trial of Dawson & Downey, while interesting, is only the backdrop for Danny's internal trial of himself.  We hear about Lionel Kaffee, former Attorney General and legendary legal advocate, throughout the entire film.  He's one of the two omnipresent deceased characters in the film that drive the narrative (the other being, of course, PFC William Santiago.)  

MARKINSON:  "I had the pleasure of meeting your father once.  I was a teenager.  He spoke at my high school."  GALLOWAY:  "Were daddy's expectations really that high?"  ROSS:  "You got bullied into that courtroom by the memory of a dead lawyer."

By the end of the film, everyone but Danny himself knows and accepts what he has to do .  It may be too much to say he is being childish, as such, but he is protecting himself from possible failure by refusing to attempt to actually try.  He's been coasting, pleasing out cases without getting invested.  If you don't really care then you can't ever be disappointed–or, more importantly, a disappointment.  This is a problem that many of Sorkin's protagonists struggle with:  the approval of their fathers.  We'll see it in many characters, including Dan Rydell, Jed Bartlett, and Will McAvoy, over the course of this rewatch.  In Kaffee's case, it isn't really the story of a Code Red gone wrong that makes this moment in his (fictional) life worthy of putting on film, it's the realization that he has been hiding, and his decision to stop doing so.   

Santiago's murder, however, does bring Danny, along with Sam & Jo, into conflict with the ultimate metaphorically paternal character in their universe, Colonel Nathan Jessup.  Nicholson plays him as alternately distant and aloof,  and completely in-your-face, patronizing and even hostile.  He's not afraid to verbally abuse anyone around him, because they're all beneath him.  He's the king of his little castle, and no one challenges him–both because of his actual rank, and because of his overbearing manner.  Jessup expects to be obeyed and therefore he is.  Kaffee is the only one to challenge him outright, and thus the only one to really get to him.  Danny's courtroom interrogation is so unlike anything the Colonel would have experienced in his daily life that he allows himself to get flustered, then pissed off, and then totally lose his carefully manicured control.  This is a feat that Kaffee could only manage after conquering his internal resistance, and then channeling his talents outwards, thereby obtaining justice for his clients in the process.

I Go Home When You Go Home

Danny's secretary, whom he calls "Janelle" is entirely uncredited in the film.  She has only two lines of dialogue, which are spoken from off-camera.  In pale and all too brief tribute to this poor, anonymous woman–for whom an actual appearance in this movie could have made an entire career in cinema– here is her paltry nugget of a scene here, speaking (again, from offscreen), with Cruise's Lt. Kaffee:

KAFFEE:  I'm out of here, Janelle!

JANELLE:  Bye!

KAFFEE:  See you when I get back from Cuba.

JANELLE:  Say "hi" to Castro for me.

KAFFEE:  Will do.

Stirring repartee.  So sad.


The Aaron Sorkin Rewatch Project will return with Malice...

Fun fact:  according to Rob Reiner's interview on KPCS, Aaron Sorkin's script for A Few Good Men was actually sent in to Castle Rock (the production company, co-founded by Reiner, that made Sorkin's first three features) as a writing sample so that he could get the job writing Malice, which was already in production before A Few Good Men was ever dreamt of as a feature. Reiner went to see the broadway play of A Few Good Men, and hired Sorkin on at Castle Rock immediately thereafter.