A Few Good Men is ignited by a clash of values, courtroom fireworks, and a dazzling display of topnotch acting. Director Rob Reiner makes the most of the colorful characters and the snappy dialogue concocted by Aaron Sorkin from his Broadway play.
Two Marines are accused of murdering a misfit in their unit at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Lt. J. G. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise), a hotshot Navy lawyer who has a reputation for quickly settling cases through plea bargains is assigned to defend the two Marines. His lackadaisical approach to the case is not appreciated by Lt. Cdr. JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore), who immediately smells something fishy in what everyone else thinks is an open-and-shut case.
In Cuba, they interview the base's commanding officer, Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicolson). They have been briefed that he is an important officer, currently in consideration for Director of Operations at the National Security Council. It is immediately apparent that he is also a self-righteous zealot who believes his interpretation of the Marine Corps motto ("Code, Corps, God & Country") is the only right one. One of his right-hand men, Lt. Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland) is equally unflappable. A born-again Christian, he says of the dead Marine: "He had no code and God was watching."
Returning to Washington, Kaffee and Galloway are joined by Lt. Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak) as they construct a case to show that the Marine died as a result of a disciplinary action by his peers known as a "Code Red." Further, their two clients were illegally ordered to inflict this punishment because the victim had broken the chain of command.
Kaffee feels the heat from all sides as the court martial begins. Galloway is unrelenting in her goading to make him go after the officers involved. Others warn that doing so will put his own career in jeopardy. And in the back of his mind, the Harvard hotshot can't escape the fear that he will never measure up to his nationally famous father, a lawyer who became Attorney General.
Similar to Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, this riveting film compels us to consider our attitudes toward the military, the legitimacy of unblinking obedience to superiors, the high price of conformity, and the persecution of the weak. One side argues that those who "guard the wall" and hold back the enemy can do whatever is necessary to achieve that end. The other says just as vehemently that the rule of law applies equally to all, and loyalty to personal conscience is the measure of the individual.
This fundamental clash of values permeates not only military life but society at large. Indeed, the real impact of A Few Good Men is apparent when it is seen in this context. The story vividly demonstrates that the problem in American society has never been an absence of values but rather the sharply divisive and confrontational style of the battle between individuals of deep convictions with completely different systems of moral understanding.