A Few Good Men
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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for A Few Good Men can be found here.

When Guantanamo Bay (Cuba) based marine PFC William Santiago is killed, Lance Corporal Harold Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) and PFC Louden Downey (James Marshall), are accused of sneaking into Santiago's barracks, tying his arms and legs with tape, and forcing a poisoned rag down his throat, causing a chemical reaction called 'lactic acidosis' that made his lungs bleed. Subsequently, three military lawyers -- naval Lt Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise), Lt Cmdr Joanne 'Jo' Galloway (Demi Moore), and LTJG Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak) -- are appointed to defend them. As Kaffee and his crew investigate, it becomes apparent that there is a conspiracy that goes much higher, possibly involving Colonel Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson), who may have issued a 'code red' on Santiago.

A Few Good Men is based on a play of the same name first produced on Broadway in 1989 by American screenwriter Aaron Sorkin,. Sorkin also wrote the screenplay for the movie. The original play was inspired by an actual Code Red at Guantanamo Bay. Lance Corporal David Cox and nine other enlisted men tied up a fellow Marine and severely beat him for snitching to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Cox was acquitted and later honorably discharged. In 1994, Cox mysteriously vanished, and his bullet-riddled body was found three months later. His murder remains unsolved.

A code red is an undocumented hazing order issued against a marine who isn't performing up to snuff. Hazing typically involves harassment, abuse, or ridicule.

When muscles and other cells of the body burn sugar in the absence of oxygen (anaerobic respiration), lactic acid is produced. This is a normal bodily process and is what causes a person's muscles to cramp when performing strenuous exercise. In the healthy individual, oxygen will quickly metabolize the lactic acid (aerobic respiration). In Santiago's case, however, he was shown to have a heart condition, which may have reduced the amount of oxygen reaching his cells, leading to the condition called 'lactic acidosis'.

Lt. Col. Markinson (J.T. Walsh) clearly felt guilt over Santiago's death and blamed himself because he wasn't able to stop Jessup from ordering the Code Red. Doing the right thing (telling Kaffee the truth), however, has put him in a position where he could lose everything: his job, his rank, his respect among his peers, and, most importantly, his honor. Unable to do the right thing without destroying his own life and consumed with guilt over the murder, Markinson sees no way to go other than to shoot himself.

It's a classic technique, especially with a difficult witness. Kaffee was trying to methodically chip away at Jessup himself. If the jury hears that Santiago hadn't made any attempt to pack his things, even though Jessup kept insisting (and lying) that Santiago was going to be transferred off the base, the jury would see that Jessup is a ruthless officer. Don't forget that Kaffee also presented the letters that Santiago wrote, asking (begging) to be transferred. Kaffee was trying to convince the jury that Jessup couldn't have cared less for the health of Santiago and only cared about his own reputation. In the end, Kaffee managed to work up the courage to stand up to Jessup, prosecuting attorney Captain Ross (Kevin Bacon), and Judge Randolph (J.A. Preston) and to get Jessup to admit his crime, so the evidence, though intricate, didn't really matter.

When it looks like Kaffee has no where to go with his questioning, Jessup leaves the stand and begins to walk away, thinking he has outsmarted Kaffee, but Kaffee and Judge Randolph order him back. Against the advice of Jo and Sam, Kaffee continues to press Jessup regarding contradictions in his previous statements. 'If you gave an order that Santiago was not to be touched, and your orders are always followed, then why would Santiago be in danger?' Jessup becomes visibly agitated at the question, realizing that he's been caught, but Kaffee continues to pressure him, shouting several times, 'Did you order the Code Red?' Enraged, Jessup finally bursts. 'You're damn right I did!' he shouts, sealing his fate. Jessup is subsequently arrested, while Dawson and Downey are cleared of the murder charges but found guilty of 'conduct unbecoming a United States Marine' and dishonorably discharged. As Dawson leaves the courtroom, he salutes Kaffee, finally showing him respect as an officer. In the final scene, Captain Ross announces on his way out that he's going to have Lt. Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland) arrested for perjury. Kaffee takes one last affectionate look around the courtroom and walks out, too.

When Jessup stood up to walk out, he did so in violation of the court's rules. Despite the fact that he's a Marine colonel, he's still a witness in the case and must abide by Kaffee's and the judge's authority. He wasn't given permission to leave by either of them. In that sense, it makes Jessup look less than favorable to the jury. He's built a tremendous career and reputation as a Marine officer and believes that the court has no authority over him, especially since he believes he did his job without committing a crime.

The answer is very much cut and dried. Even though the military jury of their peers found them not guilty of murder, they still had an obligation to Marine PFC William Santiago. Colonel Jessup had issued an unlawful order to commit assault and battery on their comrade. All service members, especially enlisted personnel in all branches of the US Armed Forces, have both an obligation and a duty to carry out lawful orders issued by either superior officers or non-commissioned (NCO) officers in the USMC, the US Army and the US Air Force and to carry out lawful orders given by officers or petty officers in the US Navy or US Coast Guard. Unlawful orders issued by superiors can legally be challenged by subordinates, especially if those orders directly jeopardize the health, safety and/or well-being of any enlisted person attached to any command/unit/ship/submarine. In essence, PFC Downey and Lance Corporal Dawson had the right to refuse and to challenge Colonel Jessup's authority when he gave the order to assault Santiago. All they had to do was to report him to another senior Marine officer who would have had the obligation to look into the matter. Instead, they carried out an unlawful order which resulted in their friend's death.

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