A Few Good Men (UK - BD RB)
It doesn't matter what Scott McKenzie knows, it only matters what he can prove
When a young Marine dies in his barracks at Guantanamo Bay, two of his squad mates are accused of his murder. The accused are transferred to Washington, where they are assigned Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) as their defence lawyer, an expert at plea-bargaining and avoiding a court case at all costs. As the case proceeds, it becomes clear that the death may have occurred at the hands of Marines who were under orders and the sticky situation may throw a spanner in the works of the political ambitions of Colonel Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson).
It’s hard to believe that it’s over fifteen years since A Few Good Men hit cinema screen, giving us the wonderful tête-à-tête between Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson including the killer line ‘You can’t handle the truth!’, but there’s more to the movie than just a catchphrase. Surprisingly, the plot is actually based on a true story. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin comes from a family of lawyers and got the inspiration from the first case his sister was given when she started her legal career. He turned it into a stage play and got the chance to re-write it for the screen when Hollywood came calling.
Heavy on dialogue and short on action, the stage roots of A Few Good Men aren’t hard to find, but the performances from the leads and the impressive supporting cast make for an absorbing movie. Tom Cruise balances drama and humour well and it shows how far he had come as an actor when you bear in mind that with the central theme of a son living up to the legend of his dead father, the character could have been played in a similar vein to Maverick in Top Gun. The only drawback is that he gets to play drunk again, which is never a good thing (see Cocktail for further evidence).
Demi Moore and Kevin Pollak provide maternal and paternal support to the Cruiser as the lawyer in him comes of age, but it’s Jack Nicholson who is the centre of attention. In a role that required a relatively short amount of screen time, he still garnered an Oscar nomination for his performance as Colonel Nathan Jessup, which is so intense that you almost feel sorry for all the other actors who are being upstaged by him whenever he opens his mouth. The supporting cast includes great characters played by Kevin Bacon, JT Walsh and Kiefer Sutherland to name but a few. The scenes that Tom Cruise and Kevin Bacon share are particularly well written and give us a glimpse into the world of backstage legal dealings.
It’s testament to the strength of the story that a love scene between Tom Cruise and Demi Moore was planned but never filmed. I remember watching A Few Good Men when it was released, wondering when it would follow the Tom Cruise formula and show him hopping in the sack with the female lead. Fortunately the movie never has to stoop as low as to have some blue-lit lovin’ to keep the audience’s attention. A Few Good Men may not blow you out of your seat with special effects but what you have is a compelling screenplay performed by actors at the top of their game and that’ll do for me.
A Few Good Men is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Visually, the movie has an autumnal feel, with brown, orange and red being strong colours in the palette. For a courtroom drama, the movie is very colourful and doesn’t disappoint, with a high level of brightness throughout, even in the darker scenes, so you’ll never struggle to tell what’s going on. Something I hadn’t noticed before when watching A Few Good Men on standard definition DVD was that the focus is quite soft, so the picture lacks some of the extra detail in actors’ faces and backgrounds that I’ve come to expect from high definition releases.
This Blu-ray release comes with various surround options and for the sake of this review, I went for the PCM 5.1 track. The music is where the disc impresses most, with Marc Shaiman’s score setting the tone perfectly for many of the dramatic scenes. In a movie with lots of talking and no big action sequences, I’m pleased to report that the dialogue is clear and pitched at the right volume. The surround speakers are occasionally given a workout by thunder effects but overall A Few Good Men has a relatively simple soundtrack and the presentation here is faithful but won’t exactly blow you away.
There aren’t any Blu-ray exclusive features here, so it’s on with the extras from the special edition DVD. Rob Reiner supplies a commentary track that offers good insights into the making of the movie, in particular how rookie actor Wolfgang Bodison got the role as Lance Corporal Dawson, but the whole track is patchy, with big gaps between anecdotes. ‘Code of Conduct’ is a standard collection of interviews with the cast and crew from 2001 where they discuss just who was the nicest guy on set and how much they all loved working with Jack Nicholson, who is conspicuous by his absence. ‘From Stage to Screen’ is shorter but probably of more value, with Aaron Sorkin and Rob Reiner discussing how they adapted the movie screenplay from Sorkin’s stage play and how they made it more cinematic. Both featurettes are presented in 4:3 standard definition.
A Few Good Men is a compelling movie that features many fine performances, most of all Jack Nicholson who thoroughly steals the show. It’s also good to catch Tom Cruise in one of his best roles of the 90s, in between his 80s heartthrob days and his current oddball antics. The movie looks and sounds fine, although with no exclusive extras, this is one release where you may struggle to justify the upgrade to high definition at full price.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 3rd December 2007
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital PCM 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 German, Dolby Digital PCM 5.1 German, Dolby Digital 5.1 Hungarian, Dolby Digital 5.1 Polish
Subtitles: Arabic, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Korean, Norwegian, Mandarin, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovene, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish
Extras: Director's Commentary, Code of Conduct, From Stage to Screen
Easter Egg: No
Director: Rob Reiner
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Pollak, Kiefer Sutherland, JT Walsh, Xander Berkeley, Noah Wyle
Genre: Drama and Thriller
Length: 138 minutes
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