If a great movie is a gourmet meal, then its trailer is the amuse-bouche that puts the palate on notice about the deliciousness to come. In two-and-a-half minutes, the filmmakers get their chance to sell you the sizzle in the hopes that, eventually, you’ll head to the theater and buy the whole steak. This, of course, is much easier said than done, particularly in a marketplace overrun with alternatives. But every so often, the stars align and a studio has a cut of Grade-A Kobe beef dropped right in its lap; all they have to do is put it on the menu and let the mouth-watering begin. And make no mistake, A Few Good Men was a fucking prime dry-aged bone-in filet¹.
This isn’t revisionist history or a case of hindsight being 20-20. These are the facts of the case, and they are undisputed. Consider that when the film’s trailer was first released in the fall of 1992:
- Tom Cruise was coming off of (in order): Top Gun ($179 million in box office²), The Color of Money (four Oscar nominations), Cocktail ($78 million), Rain Man ($172 million and eight Oscar noms), Born on the Fourth of July ($70 million and seven Oscar noms), and Days of Thunder ($82 million and Nicole Kidman).
- Jack Nicholson was just a few years removed from playing The Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman ($251 million), and oh right, a two-time Oscar winner (to say nothing of his seven other nominations) and the unofficial King of Hollywood.
- Demi Moore was just two years removed from Ghost ($217 million) and half of Hollywood’s second most famous couple (behind Tom and Nicole, of course).
- And director Rob Reiner’s previous four films were (presented without comment): Stand by Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally…, and Misery.
These are the facts of the case, and they are undisputed. (Thanks, Kev!)
So, to pound the steak analogy into the ground (and a delicious paillard), when you have a USDA Prime pedigree, all you really need to do is rub a little olive oil on the thing with a dash of salt and pepper and get it on the grill. And that’s exactly what Columbia Pictures did with the AFGM trailer. Please, to enjoy:
So many tasty morsels to digest here, but let’s start with the big picture: that’s a pretty fucking good trailer! And this despite the fact that it’s almost 25 years old, which helps explain the outdated and incredibly cheesy gold-plated bursts of text that aid with the exposition. Speaking of which, let’s take a moment to assess the validity of these declarative gems:
- He Didn’t Want the Case: technically true, although not until he realized that neither Dawson nor Galloway would let him accept a plea bargain, thereby putting his set of steak knives in (grave³) danger.
- He Didn’t Know the Facts: true, though in Kaffee’s defense, he did have a big game against Bethesda Medical coming up.
- He Didn’t Have a Chance: tough to argue – more interesting is that Jack’s line reading of the famous “I eat breakfast 300 yards from 4,000 Cubans who are trained to kill me” speech is different than the one in the final film. Have to imagine this was for time’s sake, as in the final version, he really milks the pauses between “flash a badge” and “make me nervous”.
Setting aside a few archaic touches, what the trailer does so well is establish the movie’s tone; and that’s no easy feat given the delicate balance the film strikes between witty repartee and intense melodrama (a.k.a. The Full Sorkin). It’s also incredible how many of the movie’s most indelible moments (including that whole truth-handling bit) find their way into just 150 seconds of screen time.
I mean, if that doesn’t tickle your taste buds, I don’t know what would.