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The Real Villain of “A Few Good Men”

Admittedly this is not a big issue. It’s not a small issue. It’s not an issue at all, and it shouldn’t obsess me. I mean it’s just “A Few Good Men.” I once asked a friend, “Do you know who the real villain of ‘A Few Good Men’ is?”

He responded: “The people who made that movie?”

So, yeah, it’s silly for me to be so obsessed with this thing. But I can’t help it, and I’m waiting for the Kentucky Derby to start, and I don’t like Mint Juleps. So I’m just going to get this out.

The real villain of “A Few Good Men” is Joanne Galloway, played by Demi Moore. She is the worst character I have seen in any moderately decent movie and if there had been any justice in the movie SHE would have been the one arrested at the end instead of Jack Nicholson’s Nathan Jessep.

For you to even REMOTELY care about this, you must have seen A Few Good Men, preferably several times (which I imagine you have because it is on television on 17 different channels every day). I assume you are more than familiar and so will offer only a quick refresher of the plot. If you haven’t seen the movie, may I humbly suggest you click over to my ranking of baseball managers as players.

Two Marines in Guantanamo Bay are charged with attacking a fellow Marine in the middle of the night and killing him. This Marine — William T. Santiago — was by all accounts a screw-up and he was so desperate to get out of Guantanimo that he wrote letters to various high ranking officials begging for his release. He was so desperate that he even proved willing to offer information about what he called an illegal fence line shooting involving one of the Marines charged with killing him.

Ah. A motive.

Our villain Joanne Galloway works in Internal Affairs, and she gets wind of this. She is very interested in being involved in the case because she is convinced that this is a “Code Red,” meaning a violent and over-the-line training method used by unscrupulous commanders. She seems convinced that the two Marines (who had exemplary records) were ORDERED to attack Santiago in order to train him. Nicholson’s character has already been warned against using Code Reds, but he’s a pretty classic bastard and nobody really believes he has stopped using Code Reds.

Well, the movie has already shown a scene of Nicholson ordering the Code Red, so we know she is right. To me, by the way, that’s one of the big flaws in the movie — they tell us too much before it happens. To make this more interesting, in my view, they should not have shown that earlier scene and let us learn gradually that this was a Code Red.

But this isn’t a review. It’s an exploration of the awfulness of Joanne Galloway.

OK, so she wants the case but her superiors decide she’s too much of an avenging loose cannon to handle the case with any tact. They don’t want a fight here. They basically want this whole thing to disappear with as little damage as possible so they hire a hotshot and unserious lawyer named Daniel Kaffee (played by Tom Cruise) in the hopes he will just settle the case quickly, quietly and without anyone having to challenge Nicholson, who is a star on the rise in the U.S. government.

The two Marines — I guess we should name them, there’s Harold Dawson and Loudon Downey — are uncommunicative at first but they do finally admit to Kaffee that it WAS a Code Red, that Nicholson’s henchman Jonathan Kendrick (played in creepy fashion by Keifer Sutherland) came into their room and specifically ordered them to grab Santiago in the middle of the night, tie him up and and shave his head (every one on both sides seems to believe the death was unintended). Joanne couldn’t be happier; she now has her Code Red case. She is involved because she sweet-talked Loudon Downey’s aunt and made herself Downey’s lawyer. This is the kind of person we are talking about.

Kaffee still wants the Marines to take the generous plea bargain offered by the U.S. Government — six months time (“It’s a hockey season, it’s nothing!” he says) and a dishonorable discharge — but one of the Marines, Harold Dawson, refuses. Dawson is a man of principle and he does not think they did anything wrong. Downey, who now has the misfortune of having Joanne as his lawyer, seems meek and not especially bright and he will do whatever Kaffee says.

So now we have our path. What will Kaffee do? Will he still try to settle even knowing that his client was following orders? Will he remove himself from the case? Will he take it on even though he KNOWS that this one is a sure loser? Turns out Kaffee has all sorts of issues with his father, the former attorney general of the United States, who apparently never said anything good to him or something. So he thinks about it and thinks about it and finally decided to keep the case and plead not guilty.

And we have our movie. Kaffee has no proof and he will try anyway to convince a jury that Dawson and Downey were ordered to attack Santiago. What Kaffee does not realize is that in addition to his countless other disadvantages, he has also inherited a lawyer partner who knows nothing about the law, is utterly incompetent and smug and tries to get him and her client thrown in prison.

Yeah, that would be Joanne.

We begin to see just what a horror Joanne is afer Kaffee cross-examines Dr. Scott (played by Christopher Guest). This doctor determined that the two Marines must have poisoned the rag they stuffed in Santiago’s mouth even though he couldn’t find any poison on it. Before the cross-examination, Kaffee had objected to the doctor even being allowed to speculate about the poison. The judge overruled him and said that he should be able to get his case across in his cross examination of Scott.

Well, Kaffee did make the doctor look like a fool. He was undoubtedly feeling pretty good about himself. And then Joanne decided to RE-OBJECT to the doctor.

Joanne: “Your Honor, we renew our objection to Commander Stone’s testimony and ask that it be stricken from the record. And we further ask the Court to instruct the jury to lend no weight to this witnesses testimony.”

The judge looks kind of shocked by this. He apparently has not had anyone renew objections he’s already overruled.

Judge: The objection’s overruled, counselor.

Joanne: The defense STRENUOUSLY objects and requests a meeting to confer with you so that his Honor might have the opportunity to hear discussion before ruling on the objection.”

Now, the judge is ticked off. What is this?

Judge (yelling): The objection of the defense has been heard and overruled.

Joanne: Move to reconsider!

Move to reconsider. This is who we are dealing with.

Judge: “The witness is an expert and the court will hear his opinion!”

Yes, she bullies the judge into stating that the doctor is an expert. This whacked out exchange leads to a classic bit from Kevin Pollak who mocked the whole strenuously object business (“Strenuously object. Is that how it works?”)

If it was just this bit of stupidity, though, I would be able to move on from it. OK, she’s a terrible lawyer who won’t take no for an answer. Fine. But her lawyering gets much, much worse.

As the lawyer for Loudon Downey, her one meaningful job seems to be getting him ready for cross examination. The movie suggests she works on this pretty relentlessly; teaching him how to give his answers quicker and with more confidence. Downey seems to make it through the Kaffee questions pretty well but then he is cross-examined by Captain Jack Ross (played by Kevin Bacon) and the questioning takes an odd turn. Suddenly they are talking about a flat tire and how long it takes to run from where the flat tire happened to the barracks. Kaffee — and you can feel his pain as he realizes that Joanne is even more incompetent than he had suspected — writes down on paper: “Where is he going with this?”

She writes down the single mark of her character. She writes down a question mark.

Turns out, Jack Ross is going here: Downey wasn’t even in the room when the Code Red was ordered. He was running back after the flat tire. Joanne had one responsibility — ONE RESPONSIBILITY — and she screwed it up so badly that she left her beloved client in line for perjury. That kid’s poor aunt must have been ready to jump off a bridge at this point.

This led to another classic exchange where you can feel Danny Kaffee’s pure disgust:

Danny: He wasn’t in his room. He wasn’t even there. That was an important piece of information, don’t you think?

Joanne: Danny, it was a setback. And I’m sorry. But we fix it and move on to Markinson.

Setback. Yeah, that’s all it was. By the way, as you know, Markinson was a Marine from Guantanamo (played by J.T. Walsh) who knew that it was a Code Red. Unfortunately, he was also a crackpot and he killed himself, something Joanne didn’t yet know.

Danny: “Markinson’s dead. … And since we’re out of witnesses I thought I’d drink a little.”

Joanne: I still think we can win.

Danny; Maybe you should drink a little.

And then Joanne does the dumbest and most irresponsible thing of all. She tells Kaffee to call Jack Nicholson to the stand and basically get him to admit through some sort of trickery and voodoo that he ordered the Code Red. Let’s understand something: This is someone who works in Internal Affairs. This is someone who, we are told, knows the rules backward and forward. And she is now trying to convince Kaffee to charge NIcholson with a crime without proper evidence, which is illegal and unethical and leads directly to a court-martial.

It is this incredibly bad advice — I am reminded by Brilliant Reader Greg — that causes Kaffee to call her ‘galactically stupid.” So there is that. But in the end, Kaffee ludicrously TAKES HER ADVICE, leading to the “You can’t handle the truth!” line that was made famous. But before that happens we get one more Joanne bit. A few seconds before he goes out there to take his chances with Nicholson, Joanne has one more bit of advice for Kaffee:

Joanne: Listen. Danny. When you’re out there, if it’s not gonna happen, if you feel like he’s not going to say it, don’t go for it. You could get in trouble. I’m with internal affairs, and I’m telling you. You could get in a lot of trouble.”

What? Huh? Who is this maniac? She convinces Kaffee to call Nicholson to the stand where he is risking a court martial and disbarment and then at the last minute she gives this bizarre anti-pep talk where she sort of reminds him that he might get in trouble. He already knew that! He told her that! This is like sending up a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the ninth, Game 7 of the World Series, and then a few seconds before he hits saying to him, “Yeah, I’m really not too sure this is a good idea.”

This character is a nightmare.

I can’t for the life of me understand why the Good Men people would have written such a dreadful character, especially for the only woman in the movie. I mean they couldn’t give her ANY redeeming qualities? OK, the strenuously object scene was fun and they could have used that. But did they have to make her THIS brain-dead, THIS crazy, THIS destructive? If Nicholson doesn’t admit the Code Red — and I still don’t think it’s realistic that he would — Downey gets an extra few years for perjury, Kaffee is (in his own words) teaching typewriter maintenance and Nicholson is running American security.

Seeing Nicholson get taken away by authorities at the end is fine. But in a just world, the final scene is of Joanne Galloway packing her stuff and telling Kaffee that she will find another job but first is going back to St. Elmo’s for a few drinks.

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84 Responses to The Real Villain of “A Few Good Men”

  1. Joe, you say “Nathan,” and I turn around and look for Col. Jessup. Danny? Daniel Kaffee?

  2. Dale says:

    Always liked this flick, but hated that character. How could someone that ignorant of the law work for IA? Of course, having a crappy actress play the part just makes it so much worse.

  3. This is the best thing you’ve ever posted. I’m dying here.

  4. Grant says:

    Aaron Sorkin is a tremendous writer, but he’s frequently had trouble writing competent and well-rounded female characaters. So maybe this shouldn’t be too surprising; still, I hadn’t thought of Joanne quite like this before – great breakdown.

    Sorkin has said there are many things about the movie he’d love to re-write if he could. I wonder if her character is one of them.

  5. EnzoHernandez11 says:

    I strenuously object! 🙂

    Jessup’s a psychopath, Kaffee’s a callow fop, Downey’s several bulbs short of a chandelier, and Jack’s your garden-variety cynical prosecutor. Joanne’s legal chops may be suspect, but she’s the one who gives Danny a heart, Downey a brain, and Jessup too much courage. She was playing the ridiculous hand she was dealt, so of course she looked ridiculous herself from time to time. Or she could have punted, and Nathan Jessup would have become national security adviser to the president. And then who knows what sort of terrible things might have happened at Guantanamo?

    We could use a few good Joanne Galloways right now.

    (Oh, and I was totally not smitten with Demi Moore in the 90s.)

  6. Brian says:

    As a trial lawyer, I’ll say this: Joanne is stupid, but she’s not even especially stupid in comparison to stuff I’ve seen. If you find her to be I realistically incompetent, you give my profession too much credit.

    • Brian says:

      That was supposed to be “unrealistically incompetent.” But I think the typo might have helped prove my point.

    • I agree, and while I am technically an attorney, I have never even actually practiced. Just visiting court with some regularity during law school was enough to see that the level of incompetence Joanne displays is not surprising.

      • I was in jury selection when an attorney was questioning a potential juror. She found out that he was an engineer. She then started in asking the guy about his common sense. She then does an aside where she tells him she’s asking about common sense because “there are engineers in her family, so she’s aware that engineers don’t have any common sense”. The court room laughs and she realizes that she’s insulted a potential juror. So, she says, “no offense intended”. The guy retorts “that’s OK, all lawyers are scum. No offense intended”. She started to continue, but the judge cut her off saying “what counsel is trying to say is that she has stuck her foot in her mouth and doesn’t know how to remove it. Let’s move on, shall we?” We all laughed and then laughed even harder when she used one of her challenges to remove him from the jury. I could not believe the stupidity.

  7. DJ McCann says:

    That was Aaron Sorkin’s first movie credit, and he is well known for his inability to write realistic female characters. This sounds like the first hint that it would be an issue.

    At least he didn’t send her to “Mandyland” after the first act.

    • Ed says:

      Mandy was a terrible character and the show was MUCH better without her.

      CJ Cregg was a solid and realistic female character, though.

      • DjangoZ says:

        Exactly. CJ, Donna and Mrs Bartlett were all excellent. I think he can write very good female characters…but this wasn’t one of them.

        I’m a little disappointed in Joe for writing this. The issue is how few female hero roles have been written for women, so instead they end up playing idiots or party poopers.

        Maybe next he’d like to point out how often gay and black characters turn out to be the killer…

      • Karyn says:

        I’m not certain whether Cregg and Dr. Bartlet were so awesome because of the writing, or because of the acting.

        • Ed says:

          I think it’s a combination. It doesn’t matter how good if an actor/actress you are if the writing sucks — see Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman in the Star Wars prequels.

          • Karyn says:

            True dat. Also doesn’t matter how good the writing is if your lead is completely miscast. My favorite example of this is Linda Fiorentino in “Dogma”. She’s not a bad actress overall, but she was terrible in that movie because she was cast against type.

  8. Brian says:

    I always thought the most ridiculous part of the “Markinson’s dead” scene is that a completely drunk Daniel Kaffee is okay to drive in the rain to track down Joanne. Couldn’t Sam have driven him? Also, what I liked about the movie in the first place was the Jessup/Colonel Queeg parallel where we recognize that there is a fine line between military authority and crazy. And that, as Jessup says, “You want me on that wall! You need me on that wall!”

  9. ResumeMan says:

    Sort of OT, since it doesn’t deal directly with the lawyers, but since the movie came up I thought I’d throw in my $.02.

    I have always thought that the biggest problem with this movie was that it was made in the wrong decade. The whole point of the climactic “you can’t handle the truth” is that the Col. is making an impassioned defense of whatever-it-takes to keep the country safe (“we live in a world with walls, and those walls need to be guarded by men with guns…”). While the viewer isn’t necessarily supposed to find the argument *convincing* (he does get dragged off in chains after all), I presume that it is supposed to be sufficiently compelling to impose some dramatic tension; is the Colonel right? Is he wrong?

    The trouble is, this came out in the 90s, when we were living in the peace dividend era. I mean, this grave threat that Jessup is guarding us from, this threat great enough to be worth a senseless murder, is…Cuba?? In the post-cold war world? In (pre-War-on-Terror) Guantanamo Bay? I mean there’s nothing, no threat, no drama. The “threat” is a bunch of half-trained Cubans who aren’t even considering aggression.

    If the movie had come out in the 70s or 80s, it would have been set in Europe somewhere against the backdrop of the Cold War. THERE we could be convinced we needed men with guns on the wall! If it had come out post 9/11, there would have obviously been a terrorism angle (that would have required a somewhat different plot but the overall outlines I’m sure could have been fit in).

    But they made it when the “threat” they had to use was 1990s Cuba. Really drains the tension out of it.

    • Grant says:

      This is a good point. Personally I always thought we were supposed to view Nicholson’s big speech as at least a little bit correct.

    • pepefreeus says:

      I’ve had that same thought, more than once.

      All in all, Joe’s friend was right with his initial assessment.

  10. The best part of movie is the look on Capt. Jack Ross’s face when Jessup says “You’re goddamn right I did!”

  11. prima facie says:

    It’s just not a good movie — bad writing, lackluster acting and an unrealistic story.

    • Whenever you’re supposed to take Tom Cruise and Demi Moore seriously, there is a problem. As always, Nicholsen gave the movie weight. Otherwise, it was just an episode from JAG or NCIS. Mark Harmon is a marginal actor, who was once described as the perfect actor to play serial killer Ted Bundy, because Harmon doesn’t know how to show any emotion besides anger. But at least he’s not a clown like Cruise.

  12. Pat says:

    It’s Marine, capital M.

  13. BobDD says:

    Don’t forget the scene that was cut where, just as Danny rose to start Jessup’s examination, she said to him while somehow rigidly controlling all facial expression, “I double dog dare ya!”

  14. BobDD says:

    This was made back when Demi Moore was 30 and still fairly hot; Ashton Kutcher btw was in 8th grade during shooting of this film. Strenuously Abject.

  15. J.r. Clark says:

    Jessup is an unrealistic character. A military officer does not reach the rank of O-6 without understanding the consequences of his/her involvement in a court-martial proceeding. A real-life example happened in 2003 when the US Army charged Lieutenant Colonel Allen West with the beating and simulated execution of an Iraqi police officer. West strenuously denied the charges, so Army JAGs informed West he could clear his name in a court-martial proceeding with the potential risk, should he be found guilty, of 11 years’ imprisonment and loss of his retirement benefits. West instead chose an Article 32 hearing, non-judicial punishment, and the Army forced him to retire.

  16. John Gale says:

    The “strenuously object” scene is a classic. Great analysis. I knew she was a lousy character, but seeing it all laid out like this really drives it home.

    Still, I feel like that there’s something else that isn’t getting enough attention here. You mentioned that a “friend” of yours suggested that the real villains of the movie are the ones who made it. Can I assume that you’re no longer friends with this scumbag?

  17. My favorite random moment is when Jessup randomly attacks the Kevin Pollack character from witness stand, “You, Lt. Weinberg!” Poor Weinberg, he’s just sitting there.

  18. Damon Rutherford says:

    I hope Kaffee was given his set of steak knives.

  19. sleepyirv says:

    Along the same lines, does it bother anyone else how incompetent James Caan was in the movie Elf, considering his big problem in that movie is that he cared too much about his job?

  20. Nick says:

    I could never figure out why Jessup fabricated the whole “to be transferred on the next plane out” as a cover-up and then had to pull strings to make the flight log disappear, etc. This was a good part of his undoing. Why not just say – I didn’t order a Code Red – and hold fast to that?
    Also – Wouldn’t Downey not being present when the Code Red was ordered come out when deposed separately? In the end, Downey was, in fact, ordered by his superior, Dawson, to administer the Code Red, and that fact was not disputed.

    • He did start out denying it, but the premise was that Jessup was proud of his tactics and disdainful of those who see it differently. So, he wanted to proclaim it and demand that everyone understand and see it his way. So, all it required was to bait the hook…. Which is silly because he had already gone to great lengths to hide his tactics, so why now would anyone in his position admit anything, especially in court. It’s not like he was Colonel Kurtz, in Apocolypse now, who was openly conducting his own war, under his own rules.

  21. I do have an issue here with your definition of “villain.” Here is an article from a short series of articles I always enjoyed about defining “heroes” and “villains” in film:

    Following through those definitions, Galloway is arguably the Influence Character and the Second Most Central Character, but it’s pretty difficult to argue that she’s the antagonist. (Really, she’s the protagonist, since she is the one moving things forward, especially since the film is really about Daniel Kaffee’s internal growth, not the trial, and she’s the one who openly pushes the reticent Kaffee forward repeatedly.) You’re really just arguing that she is a “Bad Guy,” not the villain. If one accepts that argument AND accepts the arguments that she’s the Second Most Central Character AND accepts the argument that she is the Influence character, then she could well be the villain.

    I don’t really think the argument that she’s a “Bad Guy” or that she’s the Second Most Central Character holds up, and Jessup fits all of the elements far more easily.

    Now, if you just want to argue that she’s badly written and incomprehensible, I would not disagree at all. However, I would argue that having a consistent character who had actual emotions would make the part far beyond the abilities of Demi Moore, which makes such inconsistency and borderline psychopathy perhaps more understandable if not excusable.*

    *I did read the play, and as I recall Galloway was quite a different character in the play, but I do not remember anything specific, so if someone has more confidence in saying that the Galloway from the play has the same weaknesses, I will just accept that my snark is misplaced.

    • forsch31 says:

      Seriously? Joe calling Galloway the “villain” is clearly facetious, which is why he states she was the villain in the lede and spends the rest of the column showing how a supposed protagonist was written to be so brain-dead destructive she pretty much made the others lives a living hell–more so than the actual supposed antagonist to the story.

      The mere fact that many readers took this clear, basic literary device of Joe’s literally blows my mind.

  22. She was a lot better and much hotter when she played Jackie Templeton on Genital Hospital

  23. KHAZAD says:

    The main problem is that the movie itself is ridiculous. You could probably do a takedown of the motivations or reasons for ANY of the character’s actions. It rivals any drama since (at least any that are known or remembered at all) for having the most unintentional comedy.

    It was seen mainly because of star power, and remembered only for a couple of Nicholson quotes in the middle of one of the most unrealistic climactic scenes in movie history.

    It is just a bad film.

  24. Marc says:

    Loved the quotes in the film, and (almost) always I get sucked into watching it on that lazy rainy weekend day. I’ve never read the play, but I wonder if Galloway and Kaffee have a relationship. I think that Sorkin started writing the movie with the intent of the two of them “hooking up”, but then after he realized what a horrible job she’s done that he would never go for it – and that was that.

    Just said to my wife this week, speaking of bad lawyers: she religiously watches L&O: SVU, and I do find it entertaining to an extent…but someone should really write a blog on a episode by episode basis on what they do wrong – or horribly.

  25. Mike says:

    While Joanne has some serious flaws, the biggest problem with the story is that they did murder Santiago. Sam was right, they beat up a Marine because he couldn’t run fast. I’d like to know what the exact wording of the code red order was … If the code red was to “stuff a rag down his throat” how is that different than “hit him in the head with a tire iron”? You have to know that is not a good idea and may seriously injure him. If Kendrick said “go kill Santiago” no doubt D&D would not have followed the order. But they decided to stuff a rag down his throat and that is what killed him. Those two morons killed a Marine and should have been put away for life. “What did we do wrong” ?? Not only did you not protect willy you idiot, you killed him.

    • Paul White says:

      Yes, yes, yes. Remember during Kaffee’s dismantling of the doctor how he casually said “…and the rag was accidentally pushed down too far”? Yeah, nice of him to admit that his clients did, in fact, ram a rag down the victim’s throat far enough to asphyxiate him while in the middle of a purposeful attack on him. That, ladies and gentlemen, is at least involuntary manslaughter pretty much anywhere in the world. They were ordered to shave his head, and instead they botched that job and were 100% guilty of manslaughter. And their lawyer admitted it during cross examination of the doctor.

      • Tampa Mike says:

        They put a rag in his mouth to keep him from yelling, not to choke or kill him. It was the unknown heart condition that was the problem, not asphyxiation. He could still breath through his nose.The intent was to keep him quiet while they shaved his head, and the rest was accidental. Hitting him in the head with a tire iron is nowhere near the same ballpark.

        It isn’t murder if you give someone with an allergy peanuts when you didn’t know they were allergic.

  26. Josh says:

    Galloway is the sort of character that people in politics are very familiar with: an activist whose good intentions and passion are not matched with sufficient competence, Someone like that can be maddeningly frustrating to work with and deal with, because they just assume things will work out and think they can reshape reality because they really really want to. And there are a lot of them out there. Hell, you get the hat tip on exactly who she is at the start of the movie in one line “All passion, no street smarts.”

    That said, A Few Good Men is still a terrific movie. I don’t buy the argument that the plot is fatally flawed; there are a few things that are clearly tweaked for dramatic license, but what we’re left with is a tense legal thriller that’s tremendously well acted. It’s a marvelous cast, with every role filled beautifully. (JA Preston as the Judge does a particularly fine job) Tom Cruise doesn’t exactly stretch himself here, he’s playing the classic Tom Cruise role: the cocky & callow young man who Learns Something during the course of the movie. But he does it well enough and holds up well enough against Nicholson, Bacon, Pollak, etc. The dialogue absolutely crackles, and it’s a model that served Sorkin really well when he moved on to creating The West Wing.

    Galloway’s not the villain. Frustrating, maddening, and someone you wouldn’t want within a mile of anything critical requiring serious attention to detail, but hardly a villain.

    • Karyn says:

      No one thinks they intended to murder the guy. But they knew (or should have known) that stuffing a rag down a guy’s windpipe while giving him the business carries a risk of death. Manslaughter.

  27. Reagan says:

    I disagree that Demi Moore’s character is the villain. Incompetent, yes. Villain, no. If her character didn’t exist, then the two Marines go to jail (possibly for life) for following an order they didn’t think would result in any real harm (Kaffee’s words). Let’s not forget that without her intervention at least two officers get away with lying to cover their rears, and they are willing to let those two Marines take the fall. And her superiors seem perfectly happy to let this happen.

    So, yes, she interjects herself into the case in the interests of justice. Her actions are not the actions of a villain. She may be a bumbling fool in a poorly written movie full of unrealistic (Roadhouse unrealistic) garbage, but she’s no villain. She’s more like a heroic, bumbling fool.

    • I would use the word opportunist over hero. She wanted to take down a big dog and put it on her resume, but wasn’t capable of doing it herself.

    • sourcreamus says:

      She was an incompetent lawyer and she knew it. But she was the only one in the movie who cared about justice. Kaffee was just in the JAG to pad his resume and did not care about any of his clients. He did it because he was good at it. The Marines talked about loyalty but were willing to let one of their own die and two good men be blamed for it. Without Galloway, there is no movie, she is the one who teaches Kaffee that the law is not about who wins and loses but if justice is done.

      • Arabian Knights says:

        So agree! And this plot is incredibly sexist, e.g. how Galloway was treated in her opening interview with her boss and the two other uniforms who were in on the gag. Did anyone ever offer to mentor her? And then that incredibly crude BJ remark from Jessup.

        I would have cracked him over the skull for that one. She handled it much better.

        The old boys just wouldn’t let her join the club. That’s a pity, to waste 50% of the population.

  28. Carl Berndash Omniart says:

    It’s as if you are conflating two different senses of “bad character.” Yes, she’s a badly written character. No, she’s not a villain.

    Her character infuriates and contradicts herself. Why? Because the story is about Daniel Kaffee and Joanne Galloway is simply there as a prod or foil for his character. Why does Galloway advise Kaffee to charge Jessup without evidence then double back and advise him to back off? Because it make’s Kaffee’s choice to accuse Jessup all the more heroic. The writers are underlining the fact that Kaffee was making that brave leap on his own—he wasn’t simply put up to it by his emotional, idealistic, female associate.

    I feel as if you’re blaming Jeff Francoeur for being Jeff Francoeur rather than blaming Royals general management for signing him.

    Anyway, I agreed with your particular points, disagreed about your general conclusion, and was nearly floored by this sentence: “I can’t for the life of me understand why the Good Men people would have written such a dreadful character, especially for the only woman in the movie.” I mean, hey, I can’t understand why Royals general management signed Jeff Francoeur either, but I’ve seen enough poor Royal signings over the year to realize that something like this happens all the time.

  29. CT Bold says:


    This article is sad.

    At worst Moore’s character was a poor trial lawyer, but even so, the she was only one who empathized with her clients, smelled the BS, and wanted to confront it. Since we don’t know otherwise – though we do know that her client was anything but articulate – why not assume that she was as blindsided by the bus breakdown revelation as anyone? What, she was sposed to ask him “Oh, just checking one last time – Is everything you’ve said on this issue a fabrication? The bus didn’t break down and that day and you had to run back?” Somehow a ‘good’ lawyer would have known to ask that?

    Her client lied to her and got caught; ergo, says Joe, she’s a ‘bad ‘lawyer. You’re client lying to you is Disaster #1 that any lawyer wants to avoid, especially when that inarticulate client is taking the stand.

    Kaffee was a ‘good’ lawyer in that he got allowed to do things that no real lawyer would have been allowed to do – preach and make closing arguments to the jury all trial long. Kaffee is openly portrayed an athletics-preoccupied lightweight playboy; she saw that instantly, and by the end it was so obvious that even he noticed it himself.

    There would have been no such end had Moore’s character not supplied all the principles and energy and indignation.

    It’s a Hollywood film and shallow throughout, but misreading it so badly and only focusing on her character’s flaws reveals much more about you than her. Please turn the misogyny filter on your computer back on and get back to baseball. There are few women there; we’ll all be happier.

    • Tampa Mike says:

      The fact that the prosecution knew about the Jeep and she didn’t makes her a bad lawyer. The continuous objections makes her a bad lawyer. Advising her partner to accuse Jessep of a crime makes her a bad lawyer.

      Joe didn’t write the character. Perhaps you should direct the misogyny comment to Aaron Sorkin.

  30. […] Joe Posnanski on A Few Good Men. […]

  31. MCD says:

    Can I suggest one minor edit to Joe’s post?

    After this passage:

    “Admittedly this is not a big issue. It’s not a small issue. It’s not an issue at all, and it shouldn’t obsess me.”

    .. get rid of the 2000+ words after that.

  32. LuisLozada says:

    The movie was a disappointment because we all thought (and by “all” I mean teenagers in the 90’s) that we’d see Demi with very little clothing (this movie was WAY before Striptease [talk about a bad movie], so give me a break); didn’t happen.

    But the movie’s big accomplishment was its contribution to the Bacon game of separation.

  33. Ian says:

    I believe that in the play, her character was actually a man but the studio had the sex changed so that they could get Moore into the movie.

  34. Innocent Bystander says:

    Wow, I can’t believe I’m through the post and all of the comments and nobody mentioned her delivery of this line:

    Lt. Weinberg: Why do you like them so much?
    Galloway: Because they stand on a wall and say, “Nothing’s going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch.”

    Oh, that was the worst for me. Love the movie, but the overacted drama of that line is so terrible.

  35. Richard says:

    If you think lawyers and the courts have it bad in movies and TV, just try and find a fair, accurate depiction of a scientist…

    The only ones I can think of are “Contact” and “The Andromeda Strain”….

  36. richiew13 says:

    Ah….the good old days when Tom Cruise made good movies.

  37. KB says:

    Being a career military man I totally get the Joanne angst. It was pretty clear from the outset the only reason her supervisor lets her go on with this crusade is to get her out of the office. I could see in the body language and the unsaid things that any justification to get her out of everyone’s way would be a good thing. Then the next tipoff was when she wanted to brag about how she got a medal. Nobody, I mean nobody who makes this a career, especially as a field grade officer goes around offering up how they got a medal. Wanna tell everyone around you in uniform what a loser you really are? Start telling them about how you got your medals. From that point on I realized she was incompetent and everything she said would be within that context.

  38. Ted says:

    Keep in mind that this film was based on a surprisingly well received and award winning Broadway play (1989) which had factual basis of a nasty hazing incident ordered by a Marine Commander at Gitmo in mid 80’s. The Nicholson, Cruise, Moore gloss makes for an
    award winning film, but the message is still very relevant: you may not like what goes on in the military to keep us (and a large part of the world) safe, happy and able to criticize such atrocities as Marines urinating on dead Taliban, but we all do in fact sleep under that “blanket of freedom” provided by the military might of the USA.

    Call the “can’t handle the truth” tirade dated, but consider the alternative – in 2014.

  39. Justeen says:

    So I want to know why during Jack nickolsons rant no on on the oposing council was not flinging objections after obections out for the court to hear. Instead they let him have his incriminating monolog with the camera. WHY

    • Ted says:

      To begin with no court/judge in the land wud allow a witness to spout forth like that on the stand. But the very essence and message of the film is in JN’s monologue (as I stated before): that to offer you, me and
      most of free world some kind of freedom and order a powerful US
      military has to stand up to the bad guys. I’m a former USMC infantry officer who served in a nasty foreign combat area, but even in peacetime there are very unpleasant activities that go on that would –
      and occasionally do – shock the civilian public. Consider how many
      men and women in the military have suffered from stress disorders –
      not always in combat situations. There are different rules governing the
      US military that make it the greatest power in the world. Would you have your safety and freedom offered in some other way?

      • Justeen says:

        Yes yes I get your point bit my m
        Point wa why were there no objections clearly lead council should havestepped up and said I object once or twice especially from the past prescience of the continued objections as seen in the rest of the movie

  40. Ted says:

    Because it’s a major Hollywood movie with Jack N and Tom C which means the producers want to make big $ by capturing an audience
    that doesn’t know or care about true courtroom process. Remember
    that it was first a Broadway play. Hollywood grabbed it and ran with it.
    It’s Showbiz, and the film has made a lot of money.

    Still the message is there: someone has to be on the wall, and it isn’t
    always pretty.

  41. Carlton says:

    What about the letter Markinson wrote. What happened to it? Was it evidence? Was it real? Yes Joe was a real piece of work and she was a marginal attorney as indicated throughout the movie. It had nothing to do with her gender though, c’mon. And, despite her galactic stupiditiy, if it were not for her, this country would be without the benefit of attorney Kaffee…

  42. Patrick says:

    I’m surprised after all this talk of her incompetence, nobody has thrown out this quote: “I’m sorry, I keep forgetting. You were sick the day they taught law at law school.”

  43. I believe I earned it says:

    No one cares about her incompetence because she is good eye candy.

  44. Robert Elee says:

    Great funny stuff all. Sad more unbelievable stuff is the truth = that Sorkin got this story from his sister WHO is the model of Galloway as she was Navy JAG who defended one of 10 marines who pleabargained out for ‘less than honorable discharge’. Only creative part was Jack Nicholson speech.
    Cruise character defended Dawson character (E-3 David Cox) who ended up with assault charge and 30 days in the brig (time served) and 2 more years service and honorable discharge as scout/sniper. He was then murdered with 4 shots in the back in the woods after coming out publicly (radio/print) that he would join lawsuit of 7 other Marines and JAGs against Reiner/Sorkin et al for stealing the ‘true story’ without accreditation or cash. JAN 1994
    Really. Look it up……/murder-unsolved-20-years-later….Code Red etc was accurate, except nobody died, hanged themselves, or even dishonorably discharged. But David Cox (Dawson) was murdered…..

  45. Tish says:

    Before reading this blog post I watched the movie & yelled at the screen every time Jo did something heinous, which, as you lay out quite eloquently, was often. Her final act of pure foolishness, when she reminded Kaffee that he could get in big trouble, really did me in. Glad it wasn’t just me!

    • Ted says:

      There is only one thing, absolutely nothing else, that one should take away from this
      film, originally a Broadway play. That is very simply, that you – whoever you are: Americans, Europeans, the “Free World” – enjoy your freedom, security, hopes for the future because you are protected with military might. However, a great number of you
      dislike the nasty/brutal methods that much of this security is gained by. You would prefer
      a nice, cricket match-like superiority against enemies that would tie you down, rape your
      wife and daughters in front of you and then remove your testicles.

      That is the only message. Do you sleep under the security that that this military might
      provides for you, and do you question the methods by which it is provided? Do you not
      want to hear the the nasty/brutal aspects of it? In your nice, safe environment do you not
      want to hear the truth? Can you not handle it?

      Retired USMC officer

  46. Jeff Coleman says:

    Very funny article, and very true. However, it’s not like you can say that the movie’s writers and director are unaware of Joanne’s legal incompetence. The movie MORE than points this out (and to some degree of comic relief!) on many occasions, some of which you mention in the article. One other note: You dont mention how utterly smug she is, accusing Kaffe that he might “handle this in the same slick manner…” yada yada.

    My only issue is that Cruise seems to warm up to her as the movie continues, instead of throwing her out a window. I was thankful at least that they didnt sleep together.

  47. Ricky says:

    I just read your article, and read most, but not all of the replies, so I don’t know if someone brought this up already or not… but in the defense of Sorkin, in the original stage play of this show, Moore’s character was a man. When Hollywood wanted to make it into a movie, they’re the ones that wanted to include Demi Moore in some capacity, and so the logical choice to switch the gender of one of the main characters to include her (at that time in history) was that particular character. So it was unfortunate, yes, that it depicted a woman in an ill light, and it doesn’t change the other female characters in other stories people mentioned, and it is an important topic… but for this particular story, it was originally a man.

  48. Allegra says:

    Trump’s Closed Door Meetings with Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway Led to “So Called” Judges Suspension of Travel Ban:

  49. Mike Campbell says:

    I wouldn’t say she’s the “villain” of the film, that honor goes to Nicholson and Sutherland, who were both amazing in those roles. But, yes, she’s pretty much shown to be next to useless as a lawyer. The film also isn’t exactly subtle in showing it either.

    – Her first scene, when she petitions to be assigned to the case, her superiors describe her as being “Not cut out for litigation.”

    – Besides the strenuous objection line from Lt. Weinberg, he also remarks that “It’s the difference between paper law, and trial law!”

    – Drunk Kaffee’s realization that “You were sick the day that they taught law at law school!”

    I never really thought much about it before, but, you’re probably right about sweet talking the aunt to get assigned the case. Knowing that Kaffee has enough to deal with, she ‘offers’ to call the aunt to notify her, and gets her to suggest that she be Downey’s lawyer.

  50. […] The Real Villain of “A Few Good Men” | Joe Posnanski […]

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