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A Few Good Men

theatrical release poster
Directed by Rob Reiner
Produced by David Brown
Rob Reiner
Andrew Scheinman
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Starring Tom Cruise
Demi Moore
Jack Nicholson
Kevin Pollak
Kevin Bacon
J. T. Walsh
Kiefer Sutherland
Music by Marc Shaiman
Cinematography Robert Richardson
Editing by Robert Leighton
Steven Nevius (add'l)
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) December 11, 1992 (US)
Running time 138 minutes
Country United States
Language English

A Few Good Men is a 1992 drama film, directed by Rob Reiner, and starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, and Demi Moore. It was based on a play of the same name by Aaron Sorkin. A courtroom drama, the film revolves around the trial of two US Marines charged with the murder of a fellow Marine and the tribulations of their lawyer, Daniel Kaffee (Cruise), as he prepares a case to defend his clients.



Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise), son of a former Attorney General and Navy Judge Advocate General, is an inexperienced U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps lawyer who leads the defense in the court-martial of two Marines, Private Louden Downey (James Marshall) and Lance Corporal Harold Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison), who are accused of murdering a fellow Marine of their unit, Private William Santiago (Michael DeLorenzo), at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

Santiago compared unfavorably to his fellow Marines, had poor relations with them and failed to respect the chain of command. He went above his superiors to bargain for a transfer in exchange for blowing the whistle on Dawson for firing a possibly illegal shot towards the Cuban side of the island.

In a flashback, Colonel Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson), the Commanding Officer of the accused, reads the letter detailing the incident to two subordinates: his executive officer Lieutenant Colonel Markinson (J. T. Walsh), and Lieutenant Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland), Santiago's platoon commander. Jessep and Kendrick are incensed at Santiago's actions, but decide not to transfer him despite the objection of Markinson. After giving Markinson a dressing-down for questioning his views on the matter, Jessep calls Kendrick in to discuss "young William's training".

When Dawson and Downey are later arrested for Santiago's murder, Naval investigator and lawyer Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) suspects that they were carrying out a "code red": a euphemism for a violent extrajudicial punishment.

Galloway requests to defend them but the case is given to Kaffee, who has a reputation for arranging plea bargains. Colonel Jessep is due to take up an important post at the National Security Agency and it is implied that people in high places want the case settled with the minimum of fuss because of this. However, Galloway successfully argues her point of view to Kaffee after Dawson and Downey state they were ordered by Kendrick to shave Santiago's head, minutes after Kendrick ordered the platoon not to touch the would-be victim. His death was actually caused when a rag was shoved into his mouth as a gag.

Goaded by Galloway and Dawson, Kaffee agrees to be lead counsel for the defense. Despite initial friction between the two lawyers — since she believes he negotiates plea bargains to avoid having to argue in court, and he believes she is interfering with his handling of the case — their relationship strengthens as the trial progresses, as does Kaffee's effectiveness as a lawyer.

Nonetheless, Kaffee believes the case will be lost. After weeks of intensive preparation, he concludes that "We're gonna get creamed!" The prosecution, led by his friend Captain Jack Ross (Kevin Bacon), has a good case since Dawson and Downey do not deny assaulting Santiago, and only reveal details crucial to their defense under intense prompting. Downey is a simple–minded man who is seemingly unaware of the gravity of his situation; while the more authoritative Dawson is determined to complete the trial rather than dishonor himself and the Marine Corps with a plea bargain. When Kaffee negotiates a deal which could see their sentences reduced from twenty years to just six months, Dawson rejects it as dishonorable, calls Kaffee a coward for suggesting such a deal and intentionally fails to salute him when he leaves the room.

In the course of the trial it is established that Code Reds are standard in Guantanamo Bay as a means of enforcing discipline and getting sloppy soldiers into following procedure. Kaffee especially goes after Kendrick, particularly over the fact that he denied Dawson a promotion when the latter helped out a fellow marine who was under what could be seen as a Code Red.

Lieutenant Colonel Markinson, Jessep's executive officer, who has gone absent without leave since the incident, resurfaces in Kaffee's car during the trial. During a previous meeting with Jessep, Kaffee was told that Santiago was due to be transferred off the base for his own safety, but Markinson now reveals that there was never any intention of transferring Santiago and that transfer orders were created as part of a cover-up long after Santiago's death. Kaffee is unable to find evidence corroborating these claims and announces his intention to have Markinson testify. Rather than publicly dishonor himself and the Marine Corps, Markinson sends a letter to Santiago's parents, blaming his own weakness for the loss of their son, dresses in full uniform and commits suicide.

At the same time, evidence is found which questions whether Kendrick ordered Dawson and Downey to carry out the Code Red, something the defense had always taken for granted. Galloway, however, is convinced that Jessep also ordered the Code Red, and tries to persuade Kaffee to cross-examine him on this point. Kaffee recoils, since there is no proof Jessep was involved and such accusations could result in himself being court-martialed, a move which will ruin his career.

After Galloway storms out, Kaffee reflects on his late father with his co-counsel Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak). Weinberg admits that, with the evidence they have, Kaffee's father would never have called Jessep to the stand, but also says he would rather have the younger Kaffee as lawyer for Dawson and Downey. Weinberg pushes his friend to consider if it is he or Lionel Kaffee who is handling the case and Daniel Kaffee finally decides to put Jessep on the stand.

In court, Kaffee questions Jessep and produces circumstantial evidence that suggests there was never any intention of transferring Santiago. When this proves insufficient, Kaffee confronts Jessep regarding the incompatibility of his ordering Santiago's transfer — ostensibly for his safety from hazing — with his assertion that he ordered that Santiago was not to be touched, and that his orders were always followed. When Kaffee asks Jessep point-blank, "Did you order the Code Red?" the judge announces that he is in contempt of court, but Jessep cannot resist the challenge. When Kaffee exclaims "I want the truth!" Jessep emphatically declares, "You can't handle the truth!"

Because he defends his country, Colonel Jessep does not see why Kaffee, who has never been on the front line, should even question his methods from "under the blanket of the very freedom I provide", but in the face of a point-blank question by Kaffee furiously declares that he did in fact order the Code Red. At the prompting of Kaffee and the Judge, prosecutor Ross places Jessep under arrest.

Kaffee later admits to Ross to a little bluff which unnerved Jessep enough to cause his downfall. Ross announces that Kendrick will also be arrested. Dawson and Downey are found not guilty of murder and conspiracy to commit murder, but are found guilty of "conduct unbecoming a United States Marine" (a fictional violation based on conduct unbecoming an officer) and are dishonorably discharged. Downey is confused by the sentence, sure that Jessep's confession absolves them from blame, but Dawson points out that they failed to fight for those unable to fight for themselves, like Santiago. As they leave, Kaffee tells Dawson that he doesn't need to wear a patch on his arm to have honor. Dawson responds by exchanging salutes with Kaffee.



The film starts with a recital of Semper Fidelis by a U.S. Marine Corps marching band, and a Silent Drill (performed by the Texas A&M University Fish Drill Team).[1]

Tom Cruise's character Lt. Daniel Kaffee was based on David Iglesias, at the time a United States Navy Reserve commander.[2]

Wolfgang Bodison was a film location scout when he was asked to take part in a screen test for the part of the authoritative Dawson.[3]

Nicholson's reading of the line "You can't handle the truth!" would lead to its being voted the twenty-ninth greatest American movie quote of all time by the American Film Institute.[4] Nicholson's intense performance seen in the film was all shot in one take, meaning it was the first and only time he delivered the speech on-camera.[citation needed]

Awards and honors

The film was nominated for four Academy Awards:

The film was nominated for five Golden Globe Awards:

See also

Shaurya, a Hindi movie heavily inspired by A Few Good Men.


  1. ^ Nading, Tanya (February 11, 2001). "Corps Fish Drill Team reinstated - Front Page". College Media Network. Retrieved July 18, 2009. 
  2. ^ The Internet Movie Database, "A Few Good Men - Trivia", Accessed October 9, 2009
  3. ^ A Few Good Men DVD commentary
  4. ^ "AFI Quotes". American Film Institute. 

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to A Few Good Men article)

From Wikiquote

A Few Good Men is a 1992 film about the trial of two U.S. Marines accused of murder while serving at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Directed by Rob Reiner. Written by Aaron Sorkin
In the heart of the nation's capital, in a courthouse of the U.S. government, one man will stop at nothing to keep his honor, and one will stop at nothing to find the truth.


Col. Nathan R. Jessep

  • I run my unit how I run my unit. You want to investigate me, roll the dice and take your chances. I eat breakfast three hundred yards away from four thousand 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.
  • There is nothing on this earth sexier, believe me, gentlemen, than a woman you have to salute in the morning. Promote 'em all, I say, because this is true - if you haven't gotten a blow-job from a superior officer, well, you're just letting the best in life pass you by. 'Course, my problem is, I'm a colonel, so I guess I'll just have to keep taking cold showers until one of you gals is elected president.


  • Kaffee: I want you to know that I think the whole fucking bunch of you are certifiably insane. This code of honor of yours makes me want to beat the shit out of somebody.
  • Kendrick: Commander, I believe in God and his son Jesus Christ and because I can do, I can say this: Private Santiago is dead, and that is a tragedy. But he is dead because he had no code. He is dead because he had no honor, and God was watching.


Galloway: Why do you hate them so much?
Lt. Weinberg: They beat up on a weakling, and that's all they did. The rest is just smokefilled coffee-house 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.

Galloway: Tell your friend not to get cute down there. The Marines at Gitmo are fanatical.
Weinberg: Fanatical about what?
Galloway: About being Marines.

Jessep: The Corporal will take you by Personnel on your way back to the flight line and you can have all the transfer orders you want.
Kaffee: [to Weinberg & Galloway] Let's go.
Jessep: But you have to ask me nicely.
Kaffee: I beg your pardon?
Jessep: You have to ask me nicely. You see, Danny, I can deal with the bullets and the bombs and the blood. I don't want money and I don't want medals. What I do want is for you to stand there in that faggoty white uniform and with your Harvard mouth extend me some fucking courtesy! You gotta ask me nicely.
Kaffee: Colonel Jessep, if it's not too much trouble, I'd like a copy of the transfer order, sir.
Jessep: No problem.

Dawson: After six months we'll be dishonorably discharged. Right, sir?
Kaffee: Probably.
Dawson: Well, what do we do then, sir? We joined the Marines because we wanted to live our lives by a certain code and we found it in the Corps. Now you're asking us to sign a piece of paper that says we have no honor. You're asking us to say that we're not Marines. If a court decides that what we did was wrong, then I'll accept whatever punishment they give. I believe I was right. I believe I did my job. But I will not dishonor myself, my unit, or the Corps so that I can go home in six months! Sir.

Kendrick: I have two books at my bedside, Lieutenant: the Marine Corps Code of Conduct and the King James Bible. The only proper authorities I'm aware of are my commanding officer, Colonel Nathan R. Jessep, and the Lord our God.
Kaffee: At your request, Lieutenant Kendrick, I can have the record reflect your lack of acknowledgment of this court as a proper authority.
Captain Jack Ross: Objection!
Judge: Sustained. Watch yourself, counselor.

Kaffee: Colonel Jessep, did you order the Code Red?!
Judge: You don't have to answer that question!
Jessep: I'll answer the question. You want answers?
Kaffee: I think I'm entitled.
Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee: I want the truth!
Jessep: You can't handle the truth! 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, Lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can 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?
Jessep: I did the job that—
Kaffee: Did you order the Code Red?
Jessep: You're goddamn right I did!

Jessep: You fuckin' people. You have no idea how to defend a nation. All you did was weaken a country today, Kaffee. That's all you did. You put people's lives in danger. Sweet dreams, son.
Kaffee: Don't call me son. I'm a lawyer and an officer in the United States Navy. And you're under arrest, you son of a bitch. The witness is excused.

Kaffee: Is this funny, sir?
Col. Jessep: No, it isn't. It's tragic.
Kaffee: Do you have an answer to the question, Colonel?
Col. Jessep: Absolutely. My answer is I don't have the first damn clue. Maybe he was an early riser and liked to pack in the morning. And maybe he didn't have any friends. I'm an educated man, but I'm afraid I can't speak intelligently about the travel habits of William Santiago. What I do know is that he was set to leave the base at 0600. Now, are these the questions I was really called here to answer? Phone calls and foot lockers? Please tell me that you have something more, Lieutenant. These two Marines are on trial for their lives. Please tell me their lawyer hasn't pinned their hopes to a phone bill.


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