The plot centers on a court-martial, in which the United States Marines seek justice for the death of one of their own, Private First-Class William Santiago, who seems to have been killed at the hands of his fellow soldiers during an illegal, extrajudicial punishment known as a "code red." Did they do it on their own or were they following orders from above? Cruise plays Lieutenant Junior Grade Danny Kaffee, a lawyer who seeks the truth. In the cross-hairs is Colonel Nathan Jessup, played marvelously by Nicholson, who at one climactic point famously barks, "You can't handle the truth!" (Nicholson rightfully earned an Oscar nomination for his performance.)
It's one of those movies loaded with great lines and unforgettable scenes. Military movies often are highlighted by battle sequences, but this one is all about the drama of dialogue -- and of course some great monologues.
Some of my favorites:
Captain Ross (Kevin Bacon) -- "Don't you dare lump me in with Jessup and Kendrick just because we wear the same uniform. I'm your friend and I'm telling you, I don't think your clients belong in jail but I don't get to make that decision! I represent the government of the United States without passion or prejudice and my client has a case! There you go."
Lt. Kaffee (Tom Cruise) -- "You and Dawson, you both live in the same dreamworld. It doesn't matter what I believe. It only matters what I can prove! So please, don't tell me what I know, or don't know; I know the LAW."
Lance Cpl. Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) -- "We joined the Marines because we wanted to live our lives by a certain code, and we found it in the Corps. Now you're asking us to sign a piece of paper that says we have no honor. You're asking us to say we're not Marines. If a court decides that what we did was wrong, then I'll accept whatever punishment they give. But I believe I was right, sir, I believe I did my job, and I will not dishonor myself, my unit, or the Corps so I can go home in six months... Sir."
Lt. Weinberg (Kevin Pollack) -- "They beat up on a weakling, and that's all they did. The rest is just smoke-filled coffee-house crap. They tortured and tormented a weaker kid. They didn't like him. So? They killed him. And why? Because he couldn't run very fast!"
Col. Jessup (Jack Nicholson) -- "Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to."
It's one of those movies I could watch again and again. If you've never seen it, check it out.