So, late Saturday night, I turned over to TCM’s 31 Days Of Oscar and I was watching the 1992 best picture nominee, A Few Good Men, and I noticed that not only was there only one woman in the entire film but she was also portrayed as being humorless and overwhelmed. While all of the male characters were allowed to speak in quippy one liners and all had at least one memorable personality trait, Lt. Commander Joanne Galloway (Demi Moore) didn’t get to do much beyond frown and struggle to keep up.
“Hmmmm…” I wondered, “why is it that the only woman in the film is portrayed as basically being a humorless scold?” Then I remembered that A Few Good Men was written by Aaron Sorkin and it all made sense. As I’ve discussed on this site before, Aaron Sorkin has no idea how to write woman and that’s certainly evident in A Few Good Men. Joanne (who goes by the masculine Jo) is the one character who doesn’t get to say anything funny or wise. Instead, she mostly serves to repeat platitudes and to be ridiculed (both subtly and not-so subtly) by her male colleagues. You can tell that Sorkin was so busy patting himself on the back for making Jo into a professional that he never actually got around to actually giving her any personality. As a result, there’s really not much for her to do, other than occasionally scowling and giving Tom Cruise a “that’s not funny” look.
(“C’mon,” Tom says at one point, “that one was pretty good.” You tell her,
A Few Good Men, of course, is the film where Tom Cruise yells, “I want the truth!” and then Jack Nicholson yells back, “You can’t handle the truth!” At that point in the film, I was totally on Nicholson’s side and I was kinda hoping that the scene would conclude with Cruise staring down at the floor, struggling to find the perfect come back. However, this is an Aaron Sorkin script which means that the big bad military guy is never going to have a legitimate point and that the film’s hero is always going to have the perfect comeback. Fortunately, the scene took place in a courtroom so there was a wise judge present and he was able to let us know that, even if he seemed to be making the better point, Nicholson was still in the wrong.
As for the rest of the film, it’s a courtroom drama. At Guantanamo Bay, a marine (Michael DeLorenzo) has died as the result of a hazing. Two other marines (Wolfgang Bodison and James Marshall) have been accused of the murder. Daniel Kafee (Tom Cruise), Joanne Galloyway (Demi Moore), and Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollack) have been assigned to defend them. Jack Ross (Kevin Bacon) is prosecuting them. Kafee thinks that the hazing was ordered by Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) and Lt. Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland).
We know that Kendrick’s a bad guy because he speaks in a Southern accent and is religious, which is pretty much the mark of the devil in an Aaron Sorkin script. We know that Jessup is evil because he’s played by Jack Nicholson. For that matter, we also know that Kafee is cocky, arrogant, and has father issues. Why? Because he’s played by Tom Cruise, of course. And, while we’re at it, we know that Sam is going to be full of common sense wisdom because he’s played by Kevin Pollack…
What I’m saying here is that there’s absolutely nothing surprising about A Few Good Men. It may pretend to be about big issues of national security but, ultimately, it’s a very slick and somewhat hollow Hollywood production. This, after all, is a Rob Reiner film and that, above all else, means that it’s going to be a very conventional and very calculated crowd pleaser.
Which isn’t to say that A Few Good Men wasn’t enjoyable. I love courtroom dramas and, with the exception of Demi Moore, all of the actors do a good job. (And, in Demi’s defense, it’s not as if she had much to work with. It’s not her fault that Sorkin hates women.) A Few Good Men is entertaining without being particularly memorable.