A Few Good Men is one of the best military courtroom dramas, this is both entertaining and captivating. Blah, blah, blah. But I want to talk about the auteur of this and other films.
At the beginning of his directing career, Rob Reiner had a run of films that the greatest of directors would have been proud of: This is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men and Misery. While some might disagree about which films are best, it must be admitted by anyone that this is an amazing run.
And honestly, Reiner did this without any fancy tricks, with average camera work and without a common artistic vision. Each film is excellent in their own ways, with excellent performances, but why did Reiner get this run? What skill did he have to make such a superior set of entertaining films?
I think I've discovered his secret-- he was able to spot superior scripts and he had the talent to make those scripts shine. This is Spinal Tap was just a free-for-all of comic geniuses. What Reiner showed in that film was his superior comic timing, which he used in his later films as well. But he was guided by scripts by Goldberg, Ephron and Arron Sorkin, telling stories by Stephen King (one of two directors that made adaptations King strongly approved of).
The timing was strongly evident in A Few Good Men, but more so is the script. It is paced out perfectly, and these great roles, put in the hands of a cast that reads like an Oscar night, couldn't go wrong. All Reiner had to do is to set it up and let it roll like the play it was.
Yes, Nicholson was superior and all the other performers were fantastic in this film. The beats were perfect and Reiner knew how to produce them. But the real star here is Sorkin. This isn't a West Wing episode, but it has the same sharp wit, the same interaction between characters, the same jaunty-but-talented nature of its center role. And it builds up to a crescendo, just like the best West Wing episodes, that Sorkin does so well.
In the case of this film, as well as The Social Network, Moneyball, Charlie Wilson's War and others the true auteur is Sorkin. We can't get the sense of the superior script from just a few quotes, but here we go:
This code of honor of yours makes me want to beat the shit out of something!
Sherby, you gotta trust me, you keep your eyes open and your chances of catching ball increase by a factor of 10.
Clearance code? I don't have a clearance code. Do you have a clearance code?
These two Marines are on trial for their lives. Please tell me their lawyer hasn't pinned their hopes to a phone bill.
For my part, I've done as much as I can to bring the truth to light. And the truth is this: Your son is dead for only one reason. I wasn't strong enough to stop it.
How did you know where the mess hall was if it's not in this book?
I need my bat. I think better with my bat. Where's my bat?
My hat is off to you, Mr. Sorkin, sir.