A Few Good Men Movie Legal Recap

A Few Good Men Movie Legal Recap

5 out of 5 stars
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A Few Good Men is an iconic JAG legal thriller/courtroom drama, starring Tom Cruise and Demi Moore, but this powerhouse features one of Jack Nicholson’s most stellar performances IMHO. I rate this film 5 out of 5 stars for its superb acting, storyline, courtroom drama scenes, and integrity to legal detail.

Get a quick legal recap of the iconic movie A Few Good Men starring Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, and Jack Nicholson with this concise summary, including a legal analysis. Discover the courtroom drama and memorable performances that make this film a must-watch.
Midjourney prompt: high quality model photography of Tom Cruise in a camo jacket looking off to the side, good lighting, hyper realistic skin texture –ar 4:5 –v 5.2

A Few Good Men Plot Synopsis and Summary

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We begin with a scene of the United States Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Two enlisted go into someone’s room and beat him up (very bad hazing). We later learn that this poor soul was Pfc. William Santiago, and he died.

We pan out to a very cool scene where the color guard is practicing some marching (and that cool rifle flipping) skills. We see Lt. Cdr. JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) ask to be the Judge Advocate General (JAG) assigned to defend the case against Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) and Pfc. Louden Downey (James Marshall) in a “Code Red” incident. She is not assigned because she does not have the litigation experience.

We then see Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) “negotiate” with the prosecution over another case. He walks in to meeting to defend Dawson and Downey, and we get some backstory. Dawson illegally fired his arm into Cuban territory. Santiago threatens to rat on Dawson. Then Dawson and Downey haze him, but Santiago is dead. Apparently, the rag was poisoned. Kaffee is assigned as first chair with brown-noser Lt. Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak) “doing backup administrative” duties. They are to go see Galloway.

Galloway and Kaffee have a tiff because Kaffee is a plea-bargain expert, one year out of law school. She says a funny line, in a dry tone about the Marines down in Gitmo: They are fanatical. About what? About being Marines.

We see Col. Nathan R. Jessep (Jack Nicholson) being his bad ass self (… reading Santiago’s letters about turning in Dawson). With him are 2nd. Lt. Jonathan Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland) and Lt. Col. Matthew Andrew Markinson (JT Walsh). They are discussing whether to transfer Santiago. Markison suggests to transfer Santiago. Jessep says Santiago stays where he is … they are going to “train the lad.”

Another clash between Galloway and Kaffee because Kaffee is not taking the “Cuba thing” seriously. After getting some softball practice in, Kaffee goes to see Dawson and Downey in holdup. Dawson tells Kaffee what a Code Red is. We find out that Downey is more than a little slow (and looks up to Dawson). They were training Santiago in the “CODE” … e.g. the Marine Corps CODE … unit, corps, God, country.

Capt. Jack Ross (Kevin Bacon) is the prosecutor in this case and wants to plea. Galloway says she is going to Cuba with the A-Team. Kaffee wonders about something Ross said about Kendrick.

Off to Cuba! The A-Team meets the J-Team (that’s what I’m going to call Jack Nicholson & Co.) Let me tell you, there’s no one cooler than Jack. Kaffee asks Kendrick what he said to the Marines (despite that they had an informer, Santiago was not to be touched in any way). The A-Team visits the crime scene and then has lunch with the J-Team. Jessup lies and tells Kaffee that they all agreed that Santiago would be transferred the next morning. Jessup puts the A-Team in their place.

Markinson goes UA (unauthorized absence), while we learn than Kendrick ordered the Code Red. The Kendrick meeting happened but after the meeting, Kendrick ordered Dawson and Downey to give Santiago a Code Red. Ross gives them a 2-year involuntarily manslaughter deal, which Dawson and Downey reject. Kaffee and Dawson get into a huge argument with lots of screaming because Dawson won’t take the deal. Kaffee wants to know how to get off this case. Now Galloway wants Kaffee to stay on as Dawson’s counsel.

In Court (after Kaffee strolls in … probably late). “Not Guilty” plea from Kaffee. Kaffee has figured out that the brass were just trying to bury this case because he was the plea deal King. Trial strategy here.

Day One: Opening statements, both awesome. Short and sweet … which, uhhh, doesn’t really happen in real life. Attorneys are kinda known for being … long-winded. (But the JAG might not have that much leeway.) The first witness is the guy who was investigating the contents of the letter (that Dawson illegally fired his weapon across Cuban lines). The second witness testified about Kendrick’s order.

Day Two: Medical witness, who testified that Santiago was poisoned. Galloway makes a fool of herself by repeatedly objecting to the medical opinion that Santiago was poisoned. Galloway and Weinberg duke it out.

Day Three: Cpl. Jeffrey Barnes testifies about a Code Red, which he experienced. Markison shows up. Ross and Kaffee talk.

Day Four: Kendrick. Kaffee painted Kendrick into a corner about the “Bell” incident. Dawson had to follow orders no matter what, and he was given a bad review because Dawson snuck some food to Bell when Kendrick ordered Bell to be punished for 7 days. But, uh oh, there was no flight schedule (to show that Jessup lied about transferring Santiago).

Day Five … this is what we call the Point of No Return: Markison killed himself after writing a letter to Santiago’s parents. Downey on the stand. We find out that Dawson gave the order for a Code Red to Downey because Downey had a flat tire (he wasn’t in the room when Kendrick gave the order to give a Code Red). Kaffee and Galloway have a duke ’em out yell match about putting Jessup on the stand.

The A-Team has a pow-wow, and Kaffee gets some inspiration.

Day Six: Throughout this movie, they make a big deal about accusing a superior officer with a crime, and Galloway tells Kaffee to back off Jessup if they can’t get an admission out of him. The next witness is … Jacky Jack, uhh, I mean Jessy Jessup. Kaffee asks a bunch of questions about why Santiago wasn’t packed.

We now see the most iconic scene of this movie, but YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH. If Jessup was given an order to not touch Santiago, but then why was he in grave danger (for being a Code Red). Because YOU’RE GODDAMNED RIGHT HE ORDERED A CODE RED.

The Verdict in A Few Good Men

  • Murder: Not Guilty
  • Conspiracy to Commit Murder: Not Guilty
  • Conduct Unbecoming of a United States Marine: Guilty as Charged

Time already served, dishonorably discharged

Downey didn’t understand what he did wrong, and Dawson said they were supposed to fight for people who couldn’t fight for themselves … they were supposed to fight for Santiago.

(We also find out that they will arrest Kendrick.)

Is A Few Good Men Based on a True Story?

Yes. A Few Good Men William Santiago was based on a real-life Marine named Pfc William Alvarado, who allegedly wrote letters to a congressman complaining of poor living conditions on the Guantanamo Bay Naval base. The shooting incident across Cuban lines thing was real, too. Colonel Samuel Adams allegedly decided not to transfer Alvarado despite concerns that Alvarado’s letter might have put the Pfc into “grave danger.” Unlike Jessup, however, Adams did not order a Code Red.

David Cox was the Marine who spearheaded the Code Red on Alvarado. Cox and nine other Marines assaulted Alvarado, but they stopped short of killing him. Alvarado recovered later. The Ten got arrested, and seven took a deal for an “other than honorable discharge” from the Marines. But just like Dawson, David Cox refused to take the deal as he believed he was not on the wrong side for merely following an order from his superiors.

Cox was found not guilty of aggravated battery and guilty of simple assault, which carried a 30-day sentence. Cox was then allowed to resume his career in the Marines (e.g. not dishonorably discharged from the Marines). But things didn’t end so good. David Cox was found murdered in 1994.

What is the Most Famous Line in A Few Good Men?

“You can’t handle the truth!” by Jack Nicholson.

What’s a Code Red in the Marines?

A Code Red is an unofficial “punishment” (like hazing) by a service member’s comrades. It’s used as a disciplinary measure to keep enlisted in line for real or perceived violations.

My Opinion – Is A Few Good Men Worth Watching?

This movie doesn’t really need a lot of legal explanation because all the stuff is just great trial advocacy. However, I really don’t think that Jessup would have cracked under pressure. You don’t get to be a Colonel in the Marine Corps at Guantanamo Bay and crack under any kind of pressure. Of course, that doesn’t make for very good film, does it? This movie was one of the best courtroom dramas films, with most (if not all) of the legal scenes are very accurate.

But, the few sexual harassment comments were very cringe worthy.


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