[box cover]

A Few Good Men: Special Edition

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment

Starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore,
Kevin Pollack, and Kevin Bacon

Written by Aaron Sorkin
Directed by Rob Reiner

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Review by Betsy Bozdech                    

Not many things are as riveting as a good courtroom drama, and not many courtroom dramas are as riveting as Rob Reiner's A Few Good Men. Packed with excellent performances, the star-studded box office hit deservedly earned a Best Picture nomination when it came out in 1992. From its opening scene of a Marine being bound and gagged with duct tape in the dark of night to its electric finale, with a colossally pissed-off Jack Nicholson screaming about truth, honor, and duty, it's sheer entertainment.

Much of that is thanks to Aaron Sorkin's razor-sharp script, which he adapted from his own play. Sorkin — the man behind TV ratings giant The West Wing and the scribe of another popular, politically charged movie, The American President — knows from dialogue. In Men, he gives his characters powerful, intricate monologues and instant-classic lines like Nicholson's "you can't handle the truth!" With his words, Sorkin probes and pokes at the government and the military, airing out their dirty laundry with a fervor for justice and fairness.

And, with the help of the always-reliable Kevin Pollack, Sorkin makes Tom Cruise something the actor usually isn't — funny. Indeed, as cocky-yet-untested Navy JAG Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee — a Naval officer who isn't "that crazy about boats" — Cruise tosses clever quips and smart-alecky one-liners around with abandon. Cruise is recruiting-poster perfect for the role of Kaffee; when he dons a dress uniform for the courtroom, you can practically hear law students rushing to sign up for the JAG Corps.

The movie follows Kaffee's transformation from a swaggering, softball-playing master of the plea bargain into an intense, unstoppable trial lawyer — his coming of age from boy to man. When he's assigned the case of two Marines charged with murder for giving a fellow enlistee a "Code Red" — a banned form of discipline — Kaffee's first instinct is to make a deal with prosecutor Captain Jack Ross (Kevin Bacon). But as the facts unfold, Kaffee begins to suspect a cover-up conspiracy that reaches to the highest level: Col. Nathan Jessup (Nicholson), commander of the Marine base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

With the help of Pollack's wry Lt. Sam Weinberg and Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore), an earnest Internal Affairs investigator, Kaffee tries to prove that there was more to the Code Red than meets the eye. And, in doing so, he both discovers himself and puts loyalty and honor on trial, questioning the very institutions that the military is based on. The result is absorbing, fast-paced drama that lets viewers believe that, yes, sometimes truth does prevail over power.

In addition to strong performances by Cruise, Moore, Nicholson (who was nominated for an Oscar), Bacon, and Pollack, A Few Good Men offers able supporting turns from the likes of Kiefer Sutherland, James Marshall, first-time actor Wolfgang Bodison, the late, lamented J.T. Walsh, Christopher Guest, Cuba Gooding Jr., and a fresh-faced Noah Wyle. It's an incredibly talented ensemble, and it shows; even over-the-top scenes like Nicholson's breakdown on the witness stand are believable.

It's perhaps that slight tendency toward grandstanding — and sentimentality — that is A Few Good Men's only fault. When Bodison, as Lt. Harold Dawson, salutes Kaffee at the end of the movie, for example, it's easy to roll your eyes and dismiss it as cheesy. But, for the most part, that kind of larger-than-life emotion works within the context of the movie. In Sorkin's world, respect and honor really do stand for something and have more to do with strength of character than a title or uniform, and it's fun to buy into that, even if it's just for a couple of hours.

Director Reiner has nothing but praise for Sorkin — or for anyone involved in making the film, for that matter — in his full-length audio commentary on Columbia TriStar's special edition disc (the second DVD release of A Few Good Men from the studio). Unfortunately, aside from accolades for the actors, short anecdotes about making the film, and a little bit of technical information on the movie's cinematography, Reiner's commentary is fairly sparse and unenthusiastic. He's silent for long periods, so it's almost jarring when he does speak.

He's much livelier in the disc's two featurettes: "Code of Conduct," and "From Stage to Screen with Aaron Sorkin and Rob Reiner." The first is 35 minutes long and offers making-of stills and new interviews with Reiner, Sorkin, and several of the film's actors, including Wyle, Bacon, Pollack, Bodison, Marshall, Sutherland, and Guest, as well as old footage of Cruise and Moore. Reiner covers much of the same ground he discusses in the commentary, making the documentary a much more time-efficient way to get behind-the-scenes information. (And while Reiner's comments in "Code" are good, one of the most interesting tidbits comes from Sorkin: He was originally inspired to write A Few Good Men by a Code Red incident his sister investigated while she was a military lawyer.) And for specifics on what went into adapting the original play into the movie, check out the shorter "Stage to Screen" feature.

A Few Good Men looks fantastic on this DVD; the anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) is outstanding, and the digitally mastered audio (DD 5.1) is crisp and clear. Other extras include filmographies for Reiner, Sorkin, and the principal cast, and trailers for Men, Jerry Maguire, and The Juror.

— Betsy Bozdech

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