Category Archives: A Few Good Mins

The Tragic Ballad of Willy T.

Timecode: 17:08 – 18:16

JESSEP
Who the fuck is PFC William T. Santiago?

THE TRAGIC BALLAD OF WILLY T.
by Mikey P.

Oh, Second Platoon Bravo, how can it be?
Y’all eat together ‘cept one poor PFC.
That sad boy, oh, poor Willy T.willy eats alone

He cried and he cried, but you ain’t heard his voice.
Kept lettin’ him cry, and you left him no choice.
Went and wrote ‘em a letter, said “please help me Sir!”
“I fall out on runs, and my vision done blur-ed.”
“It ain’t heat exhaustion; no, I fear it’s much more.”
“But my sergeant don’t listen, he’s all ‘bout the Corps.”
“I’m in need of relief, get me outta this place!”
“I’m Puerto Rican, not Cuban, just look at my face!”
“Y’all send me some help, and I’ll fo sho hook it up.”
“Cuz I done seen me a shootin’, and now I know wassup!”
“The bullet done flown right over the line.”
“And the man that done shot it, he’s one of our kind.”
“In exchange for my transfer, I’ll give ya his name.”
“I don’t care ‘bout no Code, I ain’t got no shame.”Willy's handwriting

But word of the letter, ‘twas bound to get out.
And next thing ya knew, Colonel Jessep did shout:
“Ship him off’a the base like some blouse-wearing queer¹?”
“No, sir, that ain’t right, ‘course I’m just spit-balling here…”
“The last time I checked, he’s a U.S. Marine.”
“So a transfer, while easy, ain’t really my scene.”
“We’re gonna train the lad, show him what’s what.”
“And if you should fail, Jon? It’s your throat that I’ll cut.”
“See, we follow orders, or people, they die.”
“So, when you’re done with young William, be sure he sees why.”Jessep incredulous

So, Kendrick went off, and he talked to his men.
Dawson took down his orders, then talked to Louden.
The next thing ya knew, Willy awoke with a fright.
And the Code Red was given ‘neath the cover of night.
They taped up his hands and stuffed a rag down his throat.
And with Willy’s condition, there was no antidote.WillyFallGIF

Oh, Second Platoon Bravo, how can it be?
Y’all killed one of your own, that poor PFC.
That sad boy, oh, poor Willy T.

* * *

Tragic poetry aside, there’s a nagging question that has to be answered before we can move on with our lives (and get to the best parts² of this movie):

Why in the fucking world did Santiago join the Marines in the first place?

One of my favorite Twitter³ follows, @SheaSerrano, always describes the best NBA players (like Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, but definitely NOT LaMarcus Aldridge) with the phrase, “[So-and-so] is built for war.” Well, I don’t think you need me to tell you that Willy Santiago wasn’t built for a snowball fight, let alone war. So, how the hell did he end up enlisted in the world’s greatest killing machine?Santiago drill sargeant

As far as I can tell, there are only three plausible explanations (each of which conveniently parallel a Season 6, Game of Thrones’ storyline):

Explanation #1 (a.k.a. the Samwell Tarly parallel): He has an asshole, overbearing father, who forced him do it to “make a man out of him”.

Explanation #2 (a.k.a. the Tommen Baratheon parallel): He has/had an ass-kicking older brother (RIP Joffrey), who joined the Corps a few years back and ripped shit up, and he was trying to follow in his footsteps (but failed miserably).

Explanation #3 (a.k.a. the Arya Stark parallel): He endured a childhood fraught with abuse, neglect, and/or witnessing his father’s head being lopped off, and he was trying to take the power back.

Now, I know I’ve positioned myself as something of a Maester when it comes to all AFGM-related matters, but I’ll be honest: I don’t know which explanation is right here. To paraphrase the great Colonel Jessep: I’m an educated man, but I can’t speak intelligently about the psychological motivations of William Santiago.

All I can say is that, “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.”

Oh, wait, no. That wasn’t me. That was Kendrick. Shit, I guess it’s back to the drawing board…

…or I could write some more poetry. That was fun.

-MPM

¹To be clear: that’s Jessep-speak (he is the movie’s villain, after all).
²i.e. Any and all scenes involving Jack Nicholson.
³Hey, while you’re thinking about Twitter, give us a follow!
Just like Sam’s dad forced him to join the Night’s Watch.

Buried Treasure

Timecode: 16:50 – 17:08

There’s an old adage that says no matter how many times you’ve seen a great movie (or read a great book), you always notice something new (and wonderful) each time you go back to it. Honestly, I didn’t think that was possible with AFGM – not because it isn’t great¹, but because I’ve seen it so many goddamn times². But boy, oh boy, was I wrong!

Last week, while I was studying the on-screen chemistry between Kaffee and that apple, I stumbled upon a small (but hilarious) detail that I’d never noticed before. And so, in true A Few Good Minutes fashion, I’m devoting this entire post to those 18 seconds of screen time and what they can possibly tell us about the greatest movie ever made³.

We now join our scene already in progress…

Kaffee has just been dismissed by Galloway, and Sam decides to stick around to explain away Danny’s devil-may-care attitude — ostensibly, to smooth things over with Jo (and possibly, to keep her from telling his boss, Captain Whitaker, that he and Danny are a couple of maroons):

SAM
He’s a little preoccupied. The team’s playing Bethesda Medical next week.

JO
Tell your friend not to get cute down there. The Marines in Guantanamo are fanatical.

SAM
About what?

JO
About being Marines.

About being Marines

It’s a great exchange, highlighted by the dismissive, matter-of-fact tone that Demi Moore delivers the last line. But there’s something even more amazing going on in the background. When Kaffee leaves the office, he turns right and heads off down the hallway (out of our view). But if you look closely, you see him re-appear in the doorway a beat later, heading the opposite direction (translation: Danny’s so out of it, he went the wrong way). Here’s the Zapruder-esque footage to prove it:14hsm8

It’s the kind of comedic touch you’d expect from Buster Keaton or Lucille Ball. But what’s more important (at least for our purposes) is to think about the possible reasons for Danny’s about-face. (Do note, however, that whichever explanation you choose likely says more about you than it does Kaffee…)

Explanation #1 (a.k.a. the simplest explanation): Danny is just that oblivious.

Supporting Evidence: We’ve seen him look to Sam for explanations about everything from fence-lines to Colonel Jessep’s resume during the last two scenes. And while Kaffee certainly enjoys playing up his confusion for comedy’s sake (ex. “Was that 0600 in the morning, sir?”), it’s safe to assume that he legitimately has zero idea who Jessep is.

Explanation #2 (a.k.a. the MJ explanation): Danny has a Michael Jordan-esque will to win (at least when it comes to softball), and all he can think about is beating Bethesda Medical next week.

Supporting Evidence: Anyone willing to hit that many grounders to such a stone-handed doofus (a.k.a. Sherby) isn’t playing “just for funsies”. Insert obligatory Kaffee-Crying Jordan meme here:Kaffee Crying JordanExplanation #3 (a.k.a. the “he’s finally met his match” explanation): While he’d never actually admit it, Kaffee was thrown off his game by Galloway’s “my jurisdiction is pretty much in your face” speech — either because she’s the first person to ever call him out on his bullshit, or because he’s sexually attracted to her (or both).

Supporting Evidence: Given what we’ve seen of his interactions with Spradling, Sam, and Captain Whitaker, Kaffee certainly hasn’t been pushed up to this point. So, at the very least, Jo’s “you’re gonna have to go deeper than that” comment is not something Danny’s heard much of in his professional life. And in the scene still to come, where Galloway calls him out yet again (this time in front of his entire softball team), he’ll allude to being sexually aroused by Jo’s take charge, dominatrix vibe.

While it’s easy to default to the simplest explanation, I tend to lean towards Explanation #3, and here’s why:

Danny can’t be that oblivious; not unless this is a different movie, and it’s being directed by The Farrelly Brothers or The Zucker Brothers (or any other brothers known for incredibly broad comedy). Sure, Rob Reiner has superb comedic chops (and Cruise gives us some memorable comic moments in the film), but at the end of the day, this is a story that we’re supposed to take seriously (even if the main character is doing everything in his power not to up to this point). So, the idea that Kaffee would head the wrong direction simply because he’s not paying attention just doesn’t fit the tone that the movie is going for.

Even more to the point, Tom Cruise is a great actor. And like all great actors, his performances are defined by the unique and specific choices that he makes. Those choices aren’t arbitrary; they’re always acutely motivated.

And that’s why, until Tom Cruise tells me otherwise, I will go to my grave convinced that the only explanation for Kaffee’s about-face is behind Door Number Three: Jo actually managed to get under his skin a little.

-MPM

¹I mean, c’mon, why would I be writing this blog if it wasn’t?
²Rough estimate: 35 times from start to finish (with plenty of other, partial viewings).
³Military courtroom drama division.
And he’s not alone. Right, Michael Douglas?
Tom, if you’re reading this, you can reach me at mpmsclone@gmail.com

Danny Appleseed

Timecode: 12:59 – 16:49

SAM
Commander, Lt. Kaffee’s generally considered the best litigator in our office. He’s successfully plea bargained 44 cases in nine months.

KAFFEE
One more and I get a set of steak knives.

If you’re a dedicated reader of this blog¹, you may remember that I said Kevin Pollak was the perfect scene partner for Tom Cruise. Well, I was wrong, ladies and gentlemen. Because there is, in fact, another co-star that helps Cruise soar to even greater heights in AFGM. And no, it’s not Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, or Jack Nicholson. I’m speaking, of course, about the juicy, Red Delicious apple² that Kaffee has a torrid love affair with during his first meeting with Galloway.Apple in the mouth

There’s just no denying it: the first half of this scene is a fucking master class in how business³ can enhance a performance. And as such, it absolutely warrants requires a thorough, bite-by-bite, A Few Good Minutes breakdown:

Kaffee arrives at Galloway’s door with Sam at his side and the apple already down to the nub. I have to assume that Danny skipped lunch to hit Sherby a few more grounders, and this apple is all that’s standing between him and dangerously low blood sugar.

• And yet, lo and behold, that “same” apple is a good 15-20% less eaten when he walks into the office (continuity error alert!) We’ll get to why that is in a second, but first, a couple of important questions: how much apple did Tom Cruise have to eat before they finished shooting this scene? And did he have to camp out in his trailer later that afternoon because of it?

• Back to the magically more-intact apple for a second. Why would Cruise trade out flimsy apple #1 for the beefier apple #2, you ask? Because he wanted to achieve peak “pig at a laua” comedic effect when he puts said apple in his mouth (pictured above), while searching his briefcase for the crumpled up piece of paper that he jotted Galloway’s name down on.

• It also gives us a spectacular, “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” moment a second later, when Cruise turns profile to the camera and there’s a giant, glistening smear of apple juice across his cheek.

• Then, the second he’s invited to sit down, he grabs a chair, takes a thoroughbred-level bite out of the apple, and doubles down on the business by licking residual apple juice off of his hand.

• Before the scene is over, he actually goes to the “apple in his mouth to free up his hand bit” three times: first when he knocks on the door, then when he’s searching for Galloway’s name, and finally, when he passes the Dawson & Downey file to Sam (like it’s a hot potato) upon receiving it from Galloway.

• And then there’s the coup de grâce: with the apple finally finished, Cruise’s eyes dart around the room looking for some place to dispose of the core. This gets Demi into the act, as she fishes the garbage can from beneath her desk and offers it to Cruise with a glare that says far more about how she feels about Kaffee than any dialogue ever could. The business is so good that you could watch the scene with the sound muted, and you could still understand their dynamic.

• Okay, I lied, that wasn’t the final final blow, because everyone knows that when you eat a juicy piece of fruit by hand, your hands become a sticky fucking nightmare! And don’t think Tom Cruise – the everyman of everymen — is going to let us forget it. No, sir! He resorts to the same “Miyagi hands” approach that every last one of us has used while trying to unstickify our hands when there’s no water, soap or paper towels available.Kaffee rubbing hands apple

I mean, my god! Give the man his due. Forget a set of steak knives, Cruise deserves an Oscar and a paring knife made of Valyrian steel for that performance. (Oh, and throw in one of these while you’re at it; they make apple pie-making a fucking breeze!)

Taken as a whole, Kaffee’s tête–à–tête with the Red Delicious helps to pound home (one final time before the story really gets rolling) both his boyish charm (because, really, what’s more boyish and charming than a farm boy gnawing on an apple from the orchard?) and the nonchalance with which he treats everything work-related.

The key turn in the scene, however, comes when Kaffee tries to wriggle his way out of Galloway’s interrogation by giving her the Dave Spradling treatment (he of the oregano prosecution):

KAFFEE
Right. Is that all?

JO
Lieutenant, this letter makes it look like your client had a motive to kill Santiago.

KAFFEE
Am I correct in assuming that these letters don’t paint a flattering picture of marine corps life at Guantanamo Bay?

JO
Yes, among —

KAFFEE
Am I further right in assuming that a protracted investigation of this incident might cause some embarrassment for the security counsel guy.

JO
Colonel Jessep, but —

KAFFEE
Twelve years.

JO
I’m sorry?

KAFFEE
I’ll get them to drop the conspiracy and conduct unbecoming. Twelve years.

JO
You haven’t talked to a witness or looked at a piece of paper.

KAFFEE
Pretty impressive, huh?

JO
You’re gonna have to go deeper than that.

When Spradling told Kaffee, “I don’t know why I’m agreeing to this” when they settled the oregano case, you could tell that it wasn’t the first time Kaffee’d heard that line before. Given his considerable charisma and that aforementioned charm, it’s probably safe to assume that Kaffee’d heard that line non-stop in the 9 months since he joined the Navy: from JAG lawyers at the end of every plea bargain and from D.C. co-eds before every last call.

But not this time. Not on Jo’s watch. I mean, say what you will about her as a litigator, but no one can question Joanne Galloway’s ability to crawl up a lawyer’s ass. Her jurisdiction is — and always has been — IN. YOUR. FACE. So, buckle up, Kaffee: you’re in the big leagues now.Jurisdiction is in your face

Oh, and you’re dismissed, by the way.always forget that part

I know, I know. You always forget that part.

-MPM

¹Shout-out to my folks!
²You could potentially talk me into it being a Jonagold, but to anyone who thinks it might be an Empire or Gala, please, do us both a favor and stop reading this blog immediately.
³For the uninitiated, “business” refers to the physical actions an actor performs in conjunction with their dialogue.
Because we all know that apple juice is a diuretic, and that apples are high in fiber, which is good for, you know…
Or is it a metaphor for him trying to dispose of the Corps and all that it stands for??? Just kidding, guys. I’m not a crazy person!
Not a real word
And paired with a few spoonfuls of peanut butter, of course, because an apple with some peanut butter is basically the perfect snack!

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.

The Right Man for the Job

Timecode: 9:07 – 10:56

SPRADLING
Now we get this done, and I mean now, or no kidding, Kaffee, I’m gonna hang your boy from a fucking yardarm!

KAFFEE
A yardarm?
(calling out)
Sherby, does the Navy still hang people from yardarms?

SHERBY
I don’t think so.

KAFFEE
(to Spradling)
Dave, Sherby doesn’t think the Navy hangs people from yardarms anymore.

That was it. That was the moment. Less than 60 seconds into meeting Lieutenant Junior Grade Daniel Allistair Kaffee, 12-year-old me had taken the bait: hook, line, and sinker. I didn’t just like Kaffee, I wanted to be Kaffee¹.Kaffee intro shot

Did it help that we meet him hitting grounders to his softball team, and I’m unabashed baseball fanatic? Sure. Did it help that he was being played by the most charismatic man in the world?

Undoubtedly. But it was more than that. It was the perfect alchemy of situation, star power, and incredible writing & direction. Like a great baseball team, Kaffee was somehow even greater than the sum of his parts.

(*Note: The voice you hear over the clip is Rob Reiner’s from his DVD commentary for the film.)

In addition to being “a joy to work with”, Tom Cruise also happens to be the greatest movie star of his generation; and really, “any attempt to prove otherwise [would be] futile, ‘cause it just ain’t true.” While I made mention of it in my review of the AFGM trailer, it bears repeating: Cruise’s box office success over the years (especially when you consider he’s never played a Jedi, a wizard, or a superhero) is otherworldly². Adjusting for ticket price inflation, Cruise has headlined a whopping 24 films that have grossed more than $100 million at the box office³ (25 if you count Tropic Thunder). Put another way, if Cruise was an A Few Good Men quote, he’d surely be this one:

It’s strange to say, because technically the o.g. Kaffee (in the stage production) was this guy, but Cruise was born to play the “Lt. Junior Grade with nine months’ experience and a track record for plea bargaining”. This introductory scene lasts a grand total of 1 minute and 49 seconds, and in it, Cruise’s Kaffee flashes the quick wit, boyish charm, and unrivaled intellect that will make him such an exceptional lawyer…when he finally steps foot inside a courtroom.Kaffee oregano face

KAFFEE
It was oregano, Dave, it was ten dollars worth of oregano.

SPRADLING
Yeah, well your client thought it was marijuana.

KAFFEE
My client’s a moron, that’s not against the law.

But enough about Kaffee; we’ll be talking about him plenty in the weeks to come. It’s time we discussed the real star of this scene. That’s right, folks, I’m talking about Sherby⁴.

Sure, he may be a walking, talking baseball blooper reel, but you gotta give Sherby this: at least he’s apologetic about it. I mean, Jesus Christ, the guy makes Lupus from the Bad News Bears look like an MVP candidate.

For me, it always begs the question: how bereft of hand-eye coordination must the JAG Corps be that Kaffee has to turn to Sherby for help? (My personal theory: Sam’s wife made him quit the team when they had their baby, forcing Kaffee to scramble to find a 10th man.)

Regardless, that’s how they ended up with a lineup card that looked like this when they took on Bethesda Medical:

JAG Corps Starting Lineup
1. Richardson SS
2. Jenkins C
3. Kaffee LF*
4. Taylor LCF
5. Lester 3B
6. O’Brien RCF
7. Centrella P
8. Nicolaides 1B
9. Abrums RF
10. Sherby 2B*

I imagine the game recap pretty much wrote itself:

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere Jessep shouts,
But there is no joy for Kaffee — mighty Sherby has struck out.

-MPM

¹This was still true six years later: as part of questionnaire my senior year in high school, I listed my personal heroes as Kaffee and Alex P. Keaton.
²Consider this as close as I’ll come to making any Scientology jokes at his expense.
³Per Box Office Mojo.
Played by the incomparable Geoffrey Nauffts, who incidentally, was also in the greatest baseball movie of all-time (Field of Dreams), and currently writes on the hit show Nashville. Nauffts!

Jo, C’mon In

Timecode: 5:23 – 9:07

JO
In short, Captain, I’d like to suggest that… I be the one who that- That it be me who’s assigned to represent them… Myself.

Before Dana or Donna. Before C.J. Cregg or Sydney Ellen Wade. And long, long before MacKenzie McHale or Mark Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend, there was Jo.

Simply put, Lt. Commander Joanne Galloway was the proto-Sorkin female. With every step she took and every word she spoke, she defined what it meant (and, as it turns out, what it would always mean) to be a Sorkinian leading lady (SLL). Why, just look at all the boxes she checks on Cosmo’s official¹ SLL quiz:

  • Are you brilliant…but bumbling? 
  • Is work your first, second and third priority?
  • Do you have trouble making friends*? (*Note: a co-worker is not a friend)
  • Are you capable, passionate, and opinionated when dealing with any and all work-related matters…? 
  • …but basically a klutzy, incompetent half-wit the moment you find yourself in the same room with a man you have feelings for?
  • And finally, at the end of the day, is your life’s mission to push the man you work for/under to be a better lawyer/president/newscaster/man?
  • BONUS QUESTION: Do you have (or have you ever had) unreasonably short hair?

sorkin women collage

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a clean sweep! She’s got it all! But…

There is one thing that sets Jo apart from basically every SLL that’s come since: the actress who played her was a stone-cold fox.

Demi Moore has always been a talented actress, but in the early 90’s she was the sexiest woman alive. Don’t believe me? The three roles she took post-AFGM were Indecent Proposal, Disclosure, and The Scarlet Letter. So, to recap, she played a married woman who Robert Redford offers a million dollars to have sex with him; a seductress/CEO who basically rapes Michael Douglas; and Hester Prynne, arguably English literature’s most irresistible temptress: bonnet & bodice division.

(Quick sidebar: if you’re reading this, and you’re yelling at your computer screen: “hey, what about Annette Benning or Felicity Huffman or Kate Winslet? They’re SLL’s and they’re fucking gorgeous!” Well, I’ve got news for you, friend: you’re a woman. Because no heterosexual man has ever turned to his buddy and said, “hey, you know who I’d give my left nut to sleep with? Annette Benning.” It’s the same reason no guy ever trusts a woman when she says her friend is “beautiful”; we see these things differently. But I digress…)

The point is Demi Moore was a bona fide sex symbol. And that’s one of the things that makes her performance as Galloway so incredible. She actually makes us believe that not only is she hopelessly single, but that she may never have been on a date in her life (but more on that later when we get to Kaffee and Galloway’s crab shack rendezvous).

So, how do you take the sexiest woman on the planet and transform her into a relatable every woman? Well, to start with, you chop off her hair and dress her like this:demi outfit

And then you let Sorkin’s self-deprecating dialogue and Moore’s eager-but-anxious performance take it from there: “’That it be I who am assigned?’ That’s good. That’s confidence inspiring.”

Galloway’s poor grammatical constructions aside, the most notable thing about this scene is that it drops a buttload of exposition into the audience’s lap, including the names of our defendants (Dawson & Downey, a.k.a. D+D Music Factory), our victim (Santiago), and the idea of a Code Red. It also introduces us to Captain West (who we’ll never see again) and his commanding officer, i.e. his mustache.What's that Jo

Amid the information download, we also get two Sorkin staples (courtesy of the aforementioned Captain Mustache West):

1) A character tries to be diplomatic, but when it doesn’t work, opts instead for (comedic) bluntness.

CAPTAIN WEST
Commander Galloway, why don’t you get yourself a cup of coffee?

JO
I’m fine, sir.

CAPTAIN WEST
Commander, I’d like you to leave the room so we can talk about you behind your back.

JO
Certainly, sir.

2) A character sarcastically answers their own rhetorical question with an archaic reference that’s likely to sail over 95% of the audience’s head (a.k.a. “The Dennis Miller”).

CAPTAIN WEST
Three cases in two years? Who was she handling, the Rosenbergs²?

By the time we’re done, Galloway’s “all passion, no street smarts” reputation seals her fate, and she’s passed over for lead counsel. Instead, Captain Mustache West assures her, “division’ll assign the right man for the job.” But more about him next week…

-MPM

¹Not official
²Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were American citizens convicted of spying for the Soviet Union in 1951. What’s strange is that their trial, while well publicized, lasted less than a month – which makes the joke/reference about Jo’s less than swift legal practices an odd one.

Semper Fidelis

Timecode: 2:00 – 5:23

SMASH CUT TO:

EXT. THE WASHINGTON NAVY YARD – DAY

…and the drum cadence we’ve been hearing has turned into Semper Fidelis and it’s coming from THE U.S. MARINE CORPS BAND, a sight to behold in their red & gold uniforms and polished silver & brass.

Semper fidelis, a Latin phrase that roughly translates to “always loyal”, doubles as both the motto of the United States Marine Corps (USMC) and the underlying theme of A Few Good Men (AFGM). If there’s a central dramatic question explored in the film it’s this: is there a point at which loyalty becomes a vice rather than a virtue? And if so, where should we draw the line?

Before that question is ever put in the mouth of a character (unless, of course, you count the rag stuffed down Santiago’s throat), it’s expressed visually with the smash cut that kicks off our opening credit sequence. If you’re watching the movie for the first time, the obvious question on the heels of Santiago getting assaulted is, “why would those guys attack one of their own like that?” The answer, it seems is…A Rob Reiner film

…America (fuck yeah!) Well, not exactly. You’re gonna have to go deeper than that.

That proud and powerful fanfare you hear is the opening of John Philip Sousa¹’s “Semper Fidelis” — the official march of the USMC being played by the official USMC band. And if you think that band looks stately and self-possessed wait ‘til you get a load of these guys:Title card

The 24 men who comprise the Corps’ Silent Drill Platoon are meant to “exemplify the discipline and professionalism associated with the USMC.” Or put another way: these guys don’t fuck around, alright? I still remember seeing a performance of theirs at halftime of a Forty Niners’ game I went to as a kid. As artful as the platoon’s synchronized movements look on camera, they’re even more breath-taking in person (especially if you’re nine years old and the coolest thing you’ve ever seen during a halftime show up to that point is this).

If you piece it all together (the flag, the band, the flawless execution of the drill team), the answer to the question (“why would those guys attack one of their own like that?”) becomes obvious: “because there’s a hell of a lot more that goes into being a Marine than you could possibly realize, dummy².”

What’s refreshing about this symbolic approach is that the answer — and by proxy, the movie’s theme — is implicit within the imagery rather than spoon-fed to us in some bombastic, on-the-nose, opening monologue. I mention this, because if Aaron Sorkin has a weakness as a writer³, it’s that he’s susceptible to bombastic, on-the-nose monologues. Like, I don’t know, this one for example:

It’s why, as much as I’ve enjoyed Sorkin’s work in television over the years, I’ve always preferred his movies (whether it’s AFGM, The Social Network, Moneyball, et al.) Working in film forces him to collaborate with an equally gifted artist (i.e. the director), who can — among other things — help to make the story-telling more visual and nuanced. Rob Reiner certainly does just that in this opening sequence, and he’ll continue to throughout the film (even as Sorkin’s words begin to take center stage).

I suppose the ultimate irony here is that in a movie best known for its stirring speeches and crackling dialogue, we’re almost five-and-a-half minutes into its run-time, and the first line still hasn’t been spoken. For that, you’ll just have to come back next week…

-MPM

¹a.k.a. The March King
²If you think that language was harsh, just wait until Colonel Jessep arrives on the scene; he’ll answer the question with a vocabulary of epithets more colorful than you could possibly fathom, you snotty little bastard.
³And let’s be clear, he’s a singular talent.