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  Directed by
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  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 92.30)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • French: Dolby Digital Surround
  • German: Dolby Digital Surround
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    English, French, German, Hebrew, Czech, Greek, Polish, Hungarian, Dutch, Arabic, Turkish, Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Hindi, Bulgarian
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary - Rob Reiner
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • Animated menus
  • Digitally remastered
  • Documentaries - 2
  • Filmographies

A Few Good Men - 10th Anniversary Collectors Edition

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 132 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Though these days best known for his hugely entertaining and successful TV drama The West Wing, writer Aaron Sorkin started off on his career of creating crackling dialogue and compelling characters as a playwright for the stage - and remarkably it was his debut play, a one-act cracker called A Few Good Men, turned out to be his unexpected break into film and television. The film rights for the play were sold even before it hit the stage, and after the release of Rob Reiner’s 1992 film version, Sorkin’s career was in instant high gear. It’s easy to figure out why, too; it seems as though everything Sorkin has written (his other credits include TV series Sports Night - still unseen in Australia - and the film The American President, itself the inspiration for The West Wing) is literally infused with memorable characterisations, intelligent drama and, of course, some of the best rapid-fire dialogue you’re likely to hear anywhere. As a debut effort, though, A Few Good Men was a surprisingly mature work, and watching the movie version (also written by Sorkin, in collaboration with director Reiner) nearly a decade after it was originally released turns out to be just as satisfying an experience as The West Wing at its best.

Based on a real incident - but with generous dramatic license taken - A Few Good Men tells the story of a murder, a cover-up and a fight for justice, all in the good old-fashioned Hollywood tradition. The murder opens the story, taking place on a US base in Cuba, right on the line between US and Cuban territory; there, in the dead of night, a young marine is attacked by his colleagues. Sometime during that night, he dies. Immediately, plans are put into place by the military to find out what happened. There are rumours that he was about to reveal information about an illegal shooting of a Cuban soldier, and that he was “disciplined” by his own unit - discipline that may have gone too far. Two marines are charged with the murder, and the military appoints fresh-faced Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) to defend them - but it soon becomes apparent that there’s more to the case than meets the eye. Not that that’s a concern to Kaffee; biding his time in the military until he can go off and make money in the commercial world of law, he’s famous for his plea-bargaining skills and his ability to make cases go away quickly and innocuously. But badgered by his co-counsel Lieutenant Jo Galloway (Demi Moore) and intrigued by the machinations of his friend and opposing lawyer Captain Jack Ross (Kevin Bacon), he starts to investigate further. It soon becomes quite clear that the head of the Marine base in question, the acid-tongued Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson), knows more about what happened than he’s letting on…

True to form for Sorkin (keep an eye out for him during this movie as “man in bar”!), A Few Good Men weaves a complex and compelling tale through the use of both functional drama (in this case, legal drama) and complex characterisations. Despite its tendency towards over-moralising and hand-on-heart patriotism at the top and tail of the film, Sorkin and Reiner build the drama fluidly and intensely, rarely pausing for thought and always happy to throw some surprises in to keep the audience guessing. Essentially this is a courtroom drama in the grand Hollywood tradition, but the final fifteen minute sequence where Cruise and Nicholson face off (we won’t give away any more than that, in case you’ve not seen the film before) is electric drama of the highest order, drama that works because of the knowledge of the characters that we’ve accumulated rather than the events being discussed. Sorkin’s theme here is honour and tradition battling with human frailty, a recurring theme in his writing right up to the present day (incidentally, director Reiner seems to believe that this is a story of a young man learning to live outside of the spectre of his famous father; while that angle may have worked for Reiner, it’s certainly not the main thrust of the story).

The ensemble cast is excellent; this is a perfect role for Cruise, who seems to be enjoying himself - as does Nicholson, who leers, sneers and pontificates to perfection with every fibre of the Jackness we know and love. Demi Moore’s character is less well drawn, but to Sorkin’s credit there’s no obligatory romance here - Lieutenant Galloway is, for the purposes of this film, simply Lieutenant Galloway - something that most writers would simply not have been able to be content with. Kevin Bacon and Kiefer Sutherland also perform well, and the astute will spot Noah Wyle amongst the cast as well (at the time virtually unknown, he’s now very familiar to viewers of the TV series ER as Carter). Also familiar to many will be Christopher Guest - A Reiner regular who played Nigel Tufnel in This Is Spinal Tap; he plays a very different role here. James Marshall (best known for his role in Twin Peaks) and the remarkable Cuba Gooding Jr (in an early role that followed his breakthrough performance in Boyz N The Hood) can also be found at their best here.

Beautifully photographed by Robert Richardson, written and acted to perfection and without a dull moment across its fairly lengthy running time, A Few Good Men is, even after all this time, still a crackling good drama that transcends its occasional moments of Hollywood cheese thanks to the skill of its writer, the deft touch of its director and a can’t-miss cast who all play to the hilt.

  Video
Contract

Originally released on DVD in Australia at the dawn of the DVD format itself, A Few Good Men was, in its first release, stuffed onto a single-layered disc with no extras; while a reasonably decent transfer that held its own well on the DVD thanks to Sony’s then state-of-the-art compression, this movie has been crying out for more modern treatment on DVD. It’s now gotten exactly that in the form of a “10th Anniversary Collector’s Edition” (though the pedantic amongst us will note that the film was released nine years ago!) and fans of the film are going to be very, very pleased with what they see.

Presented at its correct Panavision aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and 16:9 enhanced, this new transfer is, put simply, flawless. From the first to last frame, everything’s right here - detail is remarkable, colour saturation and balance is rich and natural, black levels are perfect and unlike the original disc, there’s not the slightest hint of aliasing or any other telecine problem to be found anywhere throughout the film’s running time. We’d love to go on for paragraphs about the video transfer here, but there’s simply no point - there’s nothing to criticise, and the last thing you want to read is gushing testament to how lovely this transfer is. Suffice to say that Sony’s HD and DVD Centers are operating at new levels of excellence these days. It’s interesting to note that the bitrate of the DVD video stream varies greatly, from 3Kbit/sec to over 9Kbit/sec - a lot of care and attention has obviously been paid to the compression work here.

The layer change appears very late in the film - after the 90 minute mark - and is both beautifully placed and quickly navigated.

  Audio
Contract

Originally released in cinemas with a two-channel matrixed surround soundtrack - and reproduced that way on home video up until now (with the original region 4 DVD restricted to an MPEG soundtrack, making it incompatible with some home theatre receivers and decoders), A Few Good Men has been remixed for Dolby Digital 5.1 for this release. While the film is incredibly dialogue-based - and not surprisingly, hardly an audio fireworks show - the fresh remix has done wonders in terms of clarifying the dialogue, cleaning up hiss and other problems, and giving the film some aural directionality on 5.1 systems.

  Extras
Contract

There’s a fairly decent set of extras on this new disc, especially for a nearly decade-old film - though one major extra proves disappointing. The main menu and scene selection manus are animated - and those who were about to check in for therapy will be delighted to hear that there is no Dolby Digital City trailer on this disc…!

Audio Commentary: Director Rob Reiner walks the viewer through the making of the film. Kind of. Reiner - who doesn’t even bother to introduce himself, and seems uncomfortable with the commentary process - starts off promisingly but soon lapses into that greatest of commentary sins - telling the listener stuff that they would already have figured out for themselves given at least a partially intelligent brain. While not plumbing the depths of William Friedkin’s Rules Of Engagement commentary (“now he’s pointing the gun at the people… now he’s pulling the trigger… now they’re dying…”) he comes fairly close on occasion. Amidst the obviousness there’s some interesting information, but Reiner just doesn’t sound like he’s enjoying himself at all - and his tendency to lapse into complete silence for long, long minutes (as though he wants us to listen to the scene as though we’d never heard it before) becomes seriously annoying very, very quickly.

Documentary: Code Of Conduct: A 35 minute look back at the making of the movie, with modern and archival interviews intermingled. While there’s a lot of talking being done here, this is perfectly fascinating stuff, and there are many interesting insights on the film that are offered with the benefit of hindsight - some intriguing, and some just silly. Video quality is excellent.

Documentary: From Stage To Screen: A 13 minute featurette that focuses on how Aaron Sorkin’s stage play was transformed into a feature film, with plenty of terrific comments from Sorkin and director Rob Reiner. While brief, in many ways this is the most valuable and interesting extra on the disc. Video quality is once again excellent.

Trailers: Along with an ageing full-screen trailer for the feature itself (useful mainly for reminding yourself why panned-and-scanned versions of Panavision movies are Bad Things) there’s a full-frame trailer for the later Tom Cruise effort Jerry Maguire (due out in a special edition DVD soon) and, for no particular reason, a 1.85:1 trailer for Vertical Limit. The latter offers 5.1 audio, while the other two are good old-fashioned Dolby Surround.

Talent Profiles: Factoids and “selected” filmographies for Demi Moore, Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Kevin “Centre of the Filmic Universe” Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland, Aaron Sorkin and Rob Reiner.

  Overall  
Contract

A viscerally exciting courtroom drama done to perfection by one of America’s finest modern dramatic screenwriters and one of Hollywood’s most reliable directors, A Few Good Men is, despite being very much a stage play in its use of dialogue above all else, a hugely watchable movie that holds up exceptionally well to repeated viewing. While many such dramas lose their edge when you know what’s going to happen next, Sorkin’s writing keeps the audience entranced and excited - and anyone who isn’t thrilled by Jack Nicholson’s final showcase scene is probably better off watching paint dry (which, incidentally, there is a film of, but we’ll leave that one for another time). Columbia Tristar’s new DVD presents the movie with superlative picture quality and the best possible audio; even if you’ve already got the original disc, this new release is a must for those who can’t get enough of this film.


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      And I quote...
    "...superlative picture quality and the best possible audio; even if you’ve already got the original disc, this new release is a must for those who can’t get enough of this film."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-AV1020
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Surrounds:
          Jamo
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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