Analysis of a few good men

Summary "A Few Good Men" is a legal drama that centers around the trial of two Marines accused of murder and conspiracy for their role in the death of another Marine. The defense is initially assigned to inept lawyer Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, but with the help of Joanne Galloway and Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway, Kaffee matures during the trial and uncovers a conspiracy involving high-ranking officials. Kaffee's determination leads him to call Colonel Jessup, their commanding officer, to the stand, where he ultimately confesses to ordering the code red. Dawson and Downey are acquitted of murder charges but found guilty of a lesser offense and are dishonorably discharged. The movie ends with Kaffee planning a new case and planning a date with Jo, while Sam leaves to talk to his daughter.


Screenplay Story Analysis

Story Critique While A Few Good Men has a strong premise and some compelling moments, the film ultimately suffers from a lack of depth and subtlety. The characters are generally one-dimensional and the themes feel heavy-handed at times. However, the performances are strong and the courtroom scenes are engaging, keeping the audience invested despite the flaws in the storytelling.
Suggestions:
  • Develop the characters more fully, giving them more nuance and complexity
  • Explore the themes of loyalty, honor, and the military code in a more sophisticated way
  • Trim some of the unnecessary subplots and focus more on the central conflict
  • Consider a more nuanced and ambiguous ending that leaves room for interpretation and reflection

Note: This is the overall critique. For scene by scene critique click here

Characters in the screenplay, and their arcs:

Jo

Jo is a highly intelligent and determined lawyer, committed to defending her clients and doing what's right. She is no-nonsense, protective, and challenges those around her to rise to her level of competence. Despite her serious demeanor, she is also capable of showing empathy and compassion for those around her, particularly her colleagues and clients. Jo is a seasoned investigator and researcher, with a strong moral compass and a dedication to uncovering the truth.



Kaffee

Kaffee is a young and inexperienced lawyer who is witty, sarcastic, and confident, but can also come across as arrogant and insensitive. He struggles with doubts about his abilities and the case, but is determined to fight for his clients despite the odds against him. Over the course of the film, he grows into a skilled lawyer with a deeper understanding of justice and a willingness to take risks in pursuit of the truth. He is also emotionally invested in the case and his clients, which can sometimes cloud his judgment.



Sam

Sam is a serious, knowledgeable, and level-headed lawyer. He is a loyal friend and reliable ally to Kaffee throughout the case, providing valuable input and logistical skills. He is emotionally invested in the case and struggles with guilt and uncertainty over the legality of Code Red. Sam is a calming and rational presence, but his abrasive personality can sometimes create tensions within the team. He is a diligent note-taker and supportive colleague, focused on serving Kaffee and the defense team's needs.



Dawson

Dawson is a dedicated and loyal Marine who values the Code of Honor above all else. He follows orders without question and believes in the justice of the military system. He is conflicted when faced with a situation that challenges his conscience, but ultimately decides to prioritize his loyalty to the corps over his personal beliefs. Dawson is fiercely proud of his service and sees himself as a defender of his country and the values it represents.



Downey

Downey is a young and inexperienced soldier who lacks conviction and loyalty to the code that Dawson displays. He is caught between his loyalty to his superiors and his guilt over his role in Santiago's death. Downey is initially timid and unsure but eager to please. He shares Dawson's belief in the code but is more fearful of the consequences and is willing to consider a plea deal. Ultimately, he takes responsibility for his actions with pride, but pays a heavy price for his mistake.



Ross

Ross is a seasoned marine lawyer who is confident in his abilities. He is willing to negotiate with Kaffee and reveal new information to try and get what he wants. Ross is the lead prosecutor, who is confident and comfortable in his job. He is an experienced lawyer who knows how to handle himself in court. Serious and stern, committed to finding the truth and upholding justice. Ambitious and cunning, but ultimately gets his comeuppance when he is arrested for his involvement in the conspiracy.



Jessep

Colonel Nathan R. Jessep is a high-ranking marine officer who is fiercely protective of his base and methods, and exhibits an unwavering arrogance and lack of remorse. He is a stern and uncompromising military man who is used to getting his way. He believes that discipline and following orders are paramount, and sees any deviation from this as a sign of weakness. He is imposing, prideful, and not used to being challenged in court.



Character Arc Critique Suggestions
Jo Throughout the movie, Jo goes from being a serious and guarded lawyer to a supportive and compassionate colleague and friend. She begins the movie primarily focused on the case, impressing upon Kaffee the importance of taking it seriously and dedicating herself to uncovering the truth. As the trial progresses and the team faces setbacks, Jo becomes a more emotional and supportive presence, urging Kaffee to keep fighting and providing comfort and advice when he needs it. By the end of the movie, Jo has developed a deep relationship with Kaffee, built on respect, friendship, and shared commitment to justice. Overall, Jo's character arc is well-developed, conveying a clear and compelling sense of growth and development over the course of the movie. However, more attention could be paid to the specific challenges and conflicts that drive this growth, particularly in the later stages of the arc when Jo becomes a more emotional and supportive presence. Additionally, Jo's character could benefit from more depth and complexity, perhaps through exploring her own motivations and personal struggles outside of the context of the trial.
To improve Jo's character arc, it might be useful to focus more on the specific challenges and conflicts that drive her growth, particularly in the later stages of the arc. For example, what motivates Jo to become a more emotional and supportive presence for Kaffee, and how does this relate to her own personal struggles and motivations? Additionally, exploring Jo's backstory and personal experiences could add depth and complexity to her character, helping to make her a more fully realized and compelling presence in the film.
Kaffee Kaffee's character arc involves him growing from a cocky and inexperienced lawyer into a skilled and dedicated attorney who is willing to fight for justice at all costs. Initially skeptical and detached, Kaffee gradually becomes more invested in the case and motivated to uncover the truth behind Santiago's death. He struggles with doubts about his abilities and the case, but ultimately rises to the challenge, taking risks and facing the consequences of his actions. Through his experiences, he learns the importance of integrity, compassion, and teamwork in the pursuit of justice. The character arc for Kaffee is well-developed and engaging, with clear progression in his growth throughout the film. However, some of the transitions between his different stages of development could be more clearly established to strengthen the emotional impact of his journey. Additionally, while Kaffee's growth is shown through his actions and dialogues, more opportunities for introspection and reflection on his character could deepen his transformation even further.
To improve the character arc, it could be helpful to emphasize Kaffee's internal struggles and doubts more explicitly, such as through his inner monologues or conversations with his colleagues. Additionally, highlighting specific moments where Kaffee learns important lessons or gains new insights could reinforce his development and make it more impactful for the audience. Overall, focusing on the emotional and psychological aspects of Kaffee's character could make his journey more compelling and relatable to viewers.
Sam Sam's character arc sees him go from being a reliable supporter and ally to Kaffee to becoming more emotionally invested in the case as he struggles with the guilt and uncertainty of the legality of Code Red. At times, his abrasive personality can create tensions within the team, but he ultimately becomes a calming and rational presence for Kaffee. Sam ultimately decides to leave the decision about Jessep's testimony up to Kaffee, but he has grown more confident and assertive throughout the case. While Sam is a well-rounded and developed character, his character arc could benefit from more clarity and focus. His struggles with guilt and uncertainty over the legality of Code Red are impactful, but they don't necessarily tie into a larger theme or message that is explored in the screenplay. Additionally, while his abrasive personality is mentioned, it isn't explored in depth, which could make his character arc more impactful.
To improve Sam's character arc, it may be helpful to tie his struggles with guilt and uncertainty over the legality of Code Red into a larger theme or message that is explored in the screenplay. Additionally, exploring the impact of his abrasive personality on the team and his relationships with others could add more depth to his character arc. Finally, giving Sam more agency and moments of decision-making could make his growth and development more impactful.
Dawson Dawson's arc is one of moral conflict and personal growth. Initially, he believes without question in the righteousness of his actions and his duty to his superiors. However, as he begins to realize the severity of the situation and the potential consequences for his actions, he begins to question his loyalty to the corps. Ultimately, he is faced with a choice between admitting guilt and betraying his fellow Marines, or maintaining his innocence and suffering the consequences. Although he initially chooses the latter, over time he comes to regret his decision and realizes the importance of standing up for his beliefs, even in the face of adversity. While Dawson's arc is well-developed, it could benefit from more nuance and complexity. As it stands, his character is somewhat one-dimensional, focused solely on his dedication to the corps and his moral conflict. By adding more depth to his character, such as exploring his personal relationships or his background and motivations, the audience could better understand and empathize with his struggles.
To improve Dawson's character arc, consider adding scenes or dialogue that delve deeper into his background and motivations. This could help explain why he is so loyal to the corps and why he struggles so much with his moral conflict. Additionally, exploring his relationships with his fellow Marines, or even his family and friends back home, could add more depth to his character and make his arc more compelling.
Downey Downey's character arc begins with his willingness to deny using poison to protect his superiors. Throughout the movie, he struggles with his loyalty to his code and to Dawson, as well as his guilt over his role in Santiago's death. At first, he is timid and unsure, but as the movie progresses, Downey begins to take responsibility for his actions and ultimately takes pride in his decision. Although he pays a heavy price for his mistake, he ultimately gains a deeper sense of morality and becomes a more self-assured person. The character arc for Downey is well-constructed and provides a clear direction for the character's growth. However, more could have been done to emphasize the internal conflict that Downey feels. The tension between his loyalty to his code and his guilt could have been portrayed more deeply, and perhaps the movie could have explored why he is more fearful of the consequences than Dawson. The character could also have benefitted from more thorough exploration of how he feels about taking responsibility in the end.
To improve the character arc for Downey, the movie could have emphasized his internal conflict more deeply. Perhaps they could have explored why he is more fearful of the consequences than Dawson, and what has shaped his morality. In addition, the character could have benefitted from additional scenes to showcase his growth and how he came to terms with his actions. Finally, providing more closure for the character and his relationship with Dawson would have added to his overall character development.
Ross Ross starts off as a confident and experienced lawyer with a clear motivation to win the case. As the trial progresses, he becomes more desperate and begins to act unethically to secure a conviction. He is eventually caught and arrested, leading to a fall from grace and a loss of everything he has worked for. The character arc is well developed and reflects the consequences of unethical behavior. However, Ross could benefit from more depth in his motivation and backstory.
To improve Ross' character arc, add more backstory and motivation for his actions. This can strengthen the audience's understanding of his downfall and add more emotional weight to the film.
Jessep Jessep's character arc involves his gradual realization of the consequences of his actions and the morality of his decisions. At first, he is stubborn and defensive, sticking to his story and refusing to take responsibility for his role in Santiago's death. However, as he is challenged in court and confronted with the ramifications of his decisions, he becomes increasingly conflicted. He struggles with his beliefs on discipline and following orders, and begins to question whether he was truly justified in his actions. By the end of the film, Jessep is forced to confront the consequences of his actions as he is indicted for his role in Santiago's death and is stripped of his military rank and honor. The character arc for Jessep is well-executed, but could benefit from more nuances in his development. While the film portrays his gradual realization of his actions, there are moments where Jessep's change in perspective feels abrupt and forced, particularly towards the end of the film. Additionally, his motivations for his actions are never fully explored, making his emotional journey less impactful.
To improve the character arc for Jessep, the film could delve deeper into his backstory and motivations, exploring why he held such strong beliefs on discipline and following orders. This would make his questioning of these beliefs feel more natural and impactful. Additionally, there could be more moments of introspection for Jessep, allowing for a more gradual and nuanced change in his perspective. Finally, the film could give more weight to the consequences of Jessep's actions, allowing the audience to see the full extent of his impact on others.