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  • Writer's pictureRonny Duncan Studios

A Few Good Men (1992)

What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: What separates courage and duty when you are given an order that isn't the right thing to do?

Plot Summary: After the death of a private at Guantanamo Bay, two Marines are charged with murder, and Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) is appointed to represent the two in their defense. Inclined to plea bargain, he is pushed by a lawyer from internal affairs, Commander Joanne Galloway (Demi Moore) to defend them at trial because she believes the two were ordered to perform a "code red," a sometimes violent extrajudicial or military punishment, by Colonel Nathan R. Jessup (Jack Nicholson). Assisted by Lieutenant Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollack) and pitted again prosecutor Jack Ross (Kevin Bacon), Kaffee and his legal team build a case that redefines the very meaning of "honor, code, and duty."


  • Rob Reiner, Director

  • Aaron Sorkin, Writer

  • Tom Cruise as Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee

  • Jack Nicholson as Colonel Nathan R. Jessup

  • Demi Moore as Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway

  • Kevin Bacon as Captain Jack Ross

  • Kiefer Sutherland as First Lieutenant Jonathan James Kendrick

  • Kevin Pollak as Lieutenant Sam Weinberg

  • Wolfgang Bodison as Lance Corporal Harold W. Dawson

  • James Marshall as Private First Class Louden Downey

  • J. T. Walsh as Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Andrew Markinson

  • J. A. Preston as Judge (Colonel) Julius Alexander Randolph

  • Michael DeLorenzo as Private First Class William Santiago

  • Noah Wyle as Corporal Jeffrey Owen Barnes

  • Cuba Gooding Jr. as Corporal Carl Edward Hammaker


  • A Few Good Men opened on December 11, 1992, in 1,925 theaters.

  • It grossed $15,517,468 in its opening weekend, and was the number-one film at the box office for the next three weeks. Overall, it grossed $141 million in the U.S. and $101.9 million internationally for a total of $243 million.

  • A Few Good Men currently holds an 83% rating on RT, and a 62% rating on Metacritic.

  • The film was nominated for Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Nicholson), Film Editing, and Sound Mixing. It lost the first three to Unforgiven.

  • It has been recognized by the American Film Institute on the following lists:

    • 2003: AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains:

      • Colonel Nathan R. Jessup – Nominated Villain

    • 2005: AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:

      • Col. Nathan Jessup: "You can't handle the truth!" – #29

    • 2008: AFI's 10 Top 10:

      • #5 Courtroom Drama Film

Did You Know:

  • The title for the play and film came from a long-running recruiting campaign for the U.S. Marine Corps, "We're looking for a few good men." The campaign was slowly phased out through the 1980s with the well-known "The Few. The Proud. The Marines."

  • The original play was inspired by an actual Code Red at Guantanamo Bay. Lance Corporal David Cox and nine other enlisted men tied up a fellow Marine and severely beat him for snitching to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Cox was acquitted and later honorably discharged. In 1994, David Cox mysteriously vanished, and his bullet-riddled body was found three months later. His murder remains unsolved.

  • Writer Aaron Sorkin got the story idea from his sister, who in real life experienced a very similar incident at Guantanamo from the "Lieutenant Commander Galloway" perspective as a female JAG attorney. In that incident, the victim was similarly assaulted by nine Marines and was badly injured, but did not die. Sorkin initially turned the idea into a play, and then this screenplay, which was his first.

  • A recent college graduate, Aaron Sorkin was working as a bartender at NY Broadway shows, and wrote the entire play on cocktail napkins during Act 1 of "La Cage Aux Folles." According to Sorkin, " work during the walk-in, and you work during intermission. But you're not doing anything during the first act, and there's an unlimited supply of cocktail napkins."

  • Joshua Malina is the only actor to reprise his role from the original Broadway production.

  • Aaron Sorkin makes a cameo appearance as a lawyer bragging in a tavern.

  • Tri-Star Pictures produced the film with Aaron Sorkin writing the screenplay adaptation of his play. Tri-Star executives instructed Sorkin to make several changes to the story including a sex scene between Kaffe and Galloway. An unnamed executive gave Aaron Sorkin a note: "If Tom Cruise and Demi Moore aren't going to sleep with each other, why is Demi Moore a woman?" He responded, "I said the obvious answer: Women have purposes other than to sleep with Tom Cruise." He claimed the incident was his worst experience as a screenwriter. As this was Sorkin's first screenplay, he did write it in, although he had strong reservations about doing so since this does not occur in his play version. In Sorkin's words: "Nobody at Tri-Star was talking about a romance, by the way, we were just talking about these two people going to bed". When Rob Reiner came aboard to direct he used his clout against the studio and told the young Aaron Sorkin to toss the screenplay and start over. Reiner, who had seen the play and loved it, felt adding in a sexual encounter added nothing to the story and was just a cheap Hollywood thrill tactic.

  • Sorkin said he enjoyed working for Reiner, even though the director ordered him to make countless, rigorous revisions of his screenplay. One major revision: unlike in the play, where a doctored logbook is the smoking gun that gives Kaffee the break he needs, Reiner insisted that Cruise's Kaffee win the case on courtroom skills alone.

  • Wolfgang Bodison was working for Rob Reiner on the film as a location scout when Reiner decided he was perfect for the part of Lance Corporal Harold Dawson. Reiner said he looked like a Marine.

  • Jason Alexander was supposed to play Sam Weinberg, but when Seinfeld (1989) was unexpectedly renewed, he was no longer available.

  • The Defense Department refused to endorse the film. This meant that the filmmakers couldn't utilize any military installations during filming. Most of it was shot on a Culver City soundstage.

  • Jack Nicholson was paid $5 million for ten days' work. Technically, he worked an extra morning for free when Rob Reiner and crew didn't get all of his footage shot in time. Nicholson later admitted that it was one of the few times the money was well spent.

  • Gene Hackman turned down the role of Col. Nathan Jessep because he was busy playing Sheriff Little Bill Daggett in Clint Eastwood's masterpiece Unforgiven (1992). However, Hackman won the Oscar that competed with Jack Nicholson for Best Supporting Actor at the 1993 Oscars.

  • That same year Jack Nicholson and J.T. Walsh appeared in Hoffa (1992) and became very good friends. When Nicholson won his third Oscar in 1997 for As Good as It Gets, he dedicated it to the memory of Walsh, who passed away months before the award.

  • Demi Moore reportedly agreed to negotiate her $3 million asking price down to $2 million because she was competing with Jodie Foster and Linda Hamilton for the role, and also because she badly needed another hit after the triple box-office failure of The Butcher's Wife (1991), Mortal Thoughts (1991) and Nothing But Trouble (1991).

  • It is the only Best Picture Oscar nominee in 1992 not to win any Academy Awards.

  • Kevin Pollak's mother is in the crowd watching the trial. According to Pollak, she hit on Jack Nicholson.

Best Performance: Aaron Sorkin (Writer)/Rob Reiner (Director)/Jack Nicholson (Jessup)

Best Secondary Performance: Jack Nicholson (Jessup)/Tom Cruise (Caffee)

Most Charismatic Award: Tom Cruise (Caffee)/Aaron Sorkin (Writer)

Best Scene:

  • Galloway Takes the Case

  • Galloway Meets Caffee

  • Transfer Meeting

  • Breakfast in Cuba

  • 6 Months

  • Markinson Finds Caffee

  • Cross Examination

  • Downey Wasn't There

  • Markinson's Demise

  • Final Strategy Session

  • The Final Trial Day

  • Verdict

Favorite Scene: The Final Trial Day/Final Strategy Session

Most Indelible Moment: "You Can't Handle the Truth!"

In Memorium:

  • Robert Morse, 90, American actor and singer (best known as the star of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, both the 1961 original Broadway production, for which he won a Tony Award, and its 1967 film adaptation. He also played Bertram Cooper in Mad Men.)

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Lt. Weinberg: Cmdr. Galloway, Lt. Kaffee is considered to be the best litigator in our office. He successfully plea bargained 44 cases in 9 months.

Kaffee: One more and I get a set of steak knives.

Lt. Weinberg: [sarcastically to Joanne with Danny present, in an empty courtroom after the trial has been adjourned for the day] "I strenuously object?" Is that how it works? Hm? "Objection." "Overruled." "Oh, no, no, no. No, I STRENUOUSLY object." "Oh. Well, if you strenuously object then I should take some time to reconsider."

Col. Jessup: [to Galloway during lunch in Cuba with Kaffee, Weinberg, Kendrick, and Markinson present] I run my unit how I run my unit. You want to investigate me, roll the dice and take your chances. I eat breakfast 300 yards from 4000 Cubans who are trained to kill me, so don't think for one second that you can come down here, flash a badge, and make me nervous.

Col. Jessup: [turning to Kaffee and lunging at him] I'm gonna rip the eyes out of your head and piss into your dead skull! You fucked with the wrong Marine!

Kaffee: [sarcastically to Joanne in his apartment] Oh, hah, I'm sorry, I keep forgetting. You were sick the day they taught law at law school.

Kaffee: [sarcastically to Joanne with Sam present in his apartment] Maybe, if we work at it, we can get Dawson charged with the Kennedy assassination.

Galloway: [refering to Jessup] You put him on the stand and you get it from him!

Kaffee: [sarcastically, refering to Jessup in his apartment] Oh, we get it from him! Yes! No problem! We get it from him.

[turns to Sam as if he were Jessup on the stand]

Kaffee: Colonel Jessup, isn't it true that you ordered the Code Red on Santiago?

Lt. Weinberg: Listen, we're all a little...

Kaffee: [interrupts with game-show buzzer sound] eeehhhhh! I'm sorry, your time's run out! What do we have for the losers, judge? Well, for our defendants, it's a life time at exotic Fort Leavenworth! And, for defense counsel Kaffee, that's right, it's a court martial! Yes, Johnny! After falsely accusing a highly decorated Marine officer of conspiracy and perjury, Lieutenant Kaffee will have a long and prosperous career teaching... typewriter maintenance at the Rocco Globbo School for Women! Thank you for playing "Should we or should we not follow the advice of the galactically stupid!"

Kaffee: [Stops Dawson as he is leaving the courtroom] Harold.

Dawson: Sir?

Kaffee: You don't need to wear a patch on your arm to have honor.

Dawson: Ten-hut! [salutes]

Dawson: There's an officer on deck.

Kaffee: Colonel Jessup, did you order the Code Red?

Judge Randolph: You don't have to answer that question!

Col. Jessup: I'll answer the question!

[to Kaffee]

Col. Jessup: You want answers?

Kaffee: I think I'm entitled to.

Col. Jessep: You want answers?




Col. Jessup: Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know; that Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, *saves lives*. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said "thank you" and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a *damn* what you think you are entitled to!

Kaffee: Did you order the code red?

Col. Jessup: I did the job I...

Kaffee: [interrupts him] *Did you order the Code Red?*

Col. Jessup: *You're God damn right I did!*

The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 9.5

Impact/Significance: 9

Novelty: 8.75

Classic-ness: 9.25

Rewatchability: 8.75

Audience Score: 8.95 (90% Google, 89% RT)

Total: 54.2

Remaining Questions:

  • Why did Markinson kill himself?

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