My Kind of Case

Timecode: 10:57 – 12:58

KAFFEE
That flight to Cuba, was that 0600 in the morning, sir?

Fresh off of smoking Dave Spradling like a dime bag of oregano (whilst conducting infield practice no less), Kaffee is in desperate need of a more formidable adversary (not to mention a semi-competent second baseman¹). Luckily for him (and for us), he’s arrived at the pivotal moment of any great story: the Call to Adventure.

As Joseph Campbell laid out in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in the classic monomyth, our Hero must receive a call that “disrupts the comfort of [their] Ordinary World and presents a challenge that must be undertaken.” Or put another way: as much as he may want to, Danny can’t spend his whole life hitting grounders through Sherby’s legs. Not if he’s going to be the star of the greatest movie² of all-time, anyway.

But that doesn’t mean that Kaffee is going to like getting the call; he’s what Joey C.³ would call a reluctant hero. So, it only makes sense that he shows up late to the very meeting where his “Call” will be announced to the world a conference room full of co-workers:No excuse Kaffee

KAFFEE
Excuse me, sorry I’m late.

CAPT. WHITAKER
That’s alright, Danny. I know you don’t have a good excuse, so I won’t force you to come up with a bad one.

KAFFEE
Thank you, sir.

My favorite part of this exchange is the inherent insinuation that Danny is not only chronically late, but that he’s offered up one ridiculous excuse after another as to why. A few possibilities (listed in order of ridiculousness):

5. Janelle forgot to tell him about the meeting.
4. He thought the meeting was at 0900…in the evening.
3. He had to give Sherby a ride to work, because Sherby’s bike was stolen – again.
2. He was hitting grounders to Sam’s baby.
1. His dad died — again.

With the perfunctory excuses dispensed with, Captain Exposition Whitaker wastes no time getting down to exposition business: “Seems you’re moving up in the world. You’ve been requested by Division.”Requested to do what

“Requested to do what?” Kaffee asks in what may be my favorite Tom Cruise line-reading ever. The bemused distaste with which he asks the question makes the mind race with potential requests Kaffee might have in mind. A few possibilities (listed in order of ridiculousness):

5. Board a boat.
4. Clean the latrine.
3. Fire Sherby.
2. Teach Sam’s baby to say her first word.
1. Throw the game against Bethesda Medical next week as part of the Division’s (super secret) softball gambling operation.

Instead, Captain Exposition Whitaker gives us the lowdown on the Dawson/Downey case with a helpful assist or two from the one, the only, Lt. Sam Weinberg. And just in case we weren’t completely convinced that Kaffee doesn’t take anything (not even an assignment from Division) seriously, he exhibits the telltale sign of a man who doesn’t take anything seriously: he doesn’t have a pen to take notes with. But Captain Codependency Whitaker not only comes through with a writing implement, he also hooks Kaffee up with (equally reluctant) co-counsel:Sam no responsbilities face

CAPT. WHITAKER
Work with Kaffee on this.

SAM
Doing what? Kaffee’ll have this done in about four days.

CAPT. WHITAKER
Doing various administrative… things. Back-up. Whatever.

SAM
In other words, I have no responsibilities here whatsoever.

CAPT. WHITAKER
Right.

SAM
My kind of case.

Tom Cruise has had a lot of scene partners over the years, but there’s something about Kevin Pollak’s lowkey energy and wry comic delivery that provides the perfect yang to Cruise’s yin. Over the course of the film, the two of them also prove incredibly adept at portraying a relationship that you see all the time in the real world, but almost never on screen: colleagues that work really well together, but aren’t so close that you’d ever confuse them for actual friends. Case in point: neither Kaffee nor any of Sam’s other co-workers ever refer to his baby by name (even when she’s on screen later!) And you get the feeling that Kaffee couldn’t come up with the kid’s name even if you handed him this and spotted him about a hundred guesses. It’s a small detail, but an expertly observed one by Sorkin.

But back to the pride of Pioneer High for a second (that’s Pollak for those not familiar with his educational background). The man’s had quite a career as a character actor, but you’d be hard pressed to top his four year run from ‘92 to ‘95. He followed up AFGM with a delightful mix of comedy (Wayne’s World 2 and Grumpy Old Men) and drama (The Usual Suspects and Casino). And it should have come as no surprise either, as his performance as Sam is a perfect blend of both. (Plus, I mean, the guy’s always had range.)

He deserves a pat on the back. And wouldn’t you know it? That’s exactly how the scene ends.

Pat on the back gif

-MPM

¹#sorrynotsorrysherby
²Military courtroom drama division.
³What Joesph Campbell’s friends called him, obvi.
Which also happens to be the alma mater of four of my cousins.
Speaking of impressions, on his Chat Show, Pollak shared that during the climatic Kaffee-Jessep courtroom confrontation, he actually sat in for Nicholson (off-camera) when they were shooting Tom Cruise’s sides, and he performed all of Jack’s lines AS Jack.

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