Timecode: 30:32 – 31:45
I hope for Dawson and Downey’s sake you practice law better than you play softball.
Unfortunately for Dawson and Downey, I don’t do anything better than I play softball.
What better way to kick off the second act then to introduce our final key cast member? Obviously, AFGM’s director, Rob Reiner, was sick and tired of trying to tabulate how many degrees of separation stood between him and Kevin Bacon, so he went ahead and cast him in the role of Lt. (Smilin’) Jack Ross. And boy is the movie better for it.
In the hands of a less seasoned and less charismatic actor, Jack Ross would be blown off the screen by Tom Cruise’s megawatt stardom and be relegated to dispensing exposition in those precious moments between Kaffee one-liners. But this is Kevin fucking Bacon we’re talking about here. I mean, the guy already had Animal House, the original Friday the 13th, and Diner on his resume by the time Cruise enjoyed his star-turn in 1983’s Risky Business. And given the success of Footloose in 1984, you could even make the argument that, for a time, Bacon was the bigger star. (That, of course, would all change when Cruise starred in 1986’s Top Gun and ascended to a level of stardom that few actors have enjoyed before or since.)
The point is Kevin Bacon is not only a dramatic bad ass, he’s also a performer that audiences were (and still are) accustomed to rooting for. And I’m sure that this was the defining prerequisite for casting Kaffee’s legal opposition¹, because if you’re going to spend an hour of your movie in a courtroom (and maintain a high level of suspense), both the audience (and the jury) need to be compelled by the lawyers on both sides of the aisle.
And really, if you think about it, the Bacon casting is a microcosm of what allowed this movie to transcend its genre and become a modern classic. Every role was filled by an actor of the highest pedigree. And acting as part of an ensemble is no different than playing on an athletic team: greatness is more likely to be extracted from an individual if they’re surrounded by other great actors/players. (A concept that Kevin Durant no doubt understood when he chose to sign with the Warriors this past week).
It’s clear basically from the jump that Cruise and Bacon have incredible chemistry (and possibly even some unexplored sexual tension, if you’re to believe this mildly out-of-context still):
But (potential) sexual tension aside, their relationship is still among the most nuanced in the film, as they have to walk the tightrope between (professional) rivals and (personal) friends. Based on their back-and-forth in this scene, I’ve always assumed that, while they’ve battled on the softball field² and the basketball court numerous times before, they’ve never actually faced off in a courtroom.
Ross’ “Welcome to the big time” opener also establishes a clear dynamic: he’s the older brother. He’s been here before, and he knows where dad (a.k.a. the Gitmo Marines in this analogy) hides the porn³. And like like a lot of older brothers, he’s trying to look out for the kid…while also subtly manipulating him into acquiescing to his agenda (which, in this case, is a quick and painless plea bargain).
There’s only two problems with this strategy:
1) Their walk-and-talk takes place in a hallway armed with donut distractions. And as we learned in the infamous apple scene, Kaffee is no stranger to eating on the go or sticky fingers.
And 2) Kaffee hasn’t been the same guy since Jo pushed his buttons. Think about it: (in the big picture) this scene with Ross plays out identically to Kaffee’s plea bargain with Spradling over the dime bag of oregano. It takes Danny all of about 20 seconds to get Jack to agree to his “12 years” proposal. If he were still the o.g. Kaffee, this case (and the movie) would be over by the time they reached the end of the hallway.
But we’re dealing with a changed man. And Reiner (and his production designer, J. Michael Riva) are there to underscore this point with a subtle visual cue. Just look at the sign behind Kaffee as he exits the negotiation:
Even if Kaffee and Ross may not know it yet, this baby is headed for court.
¹Well, that and his ability to remember who played the bailiff more than 20 years later.
²I’m sure Kaffee would make a Sherby-for-Ross swap faster than you can say, “let’s get two!”
³In his safe with all his guns. Duh.