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, David Cox mysteriously vanished, and his bullet-riddled body was found three months later. His murder remains unsolved.
An unnamed executive gave Aaron Sorkin a note: "If Tom Cruise and Demi Moore aren't going to sleep with each other, why is Demi Moore a woman?" He responded, "I said the obvious answer: Women have purposes other than to sleep with Tom Cruise." He claimed the incident was his worst experience as a screenwriter.
Writer Aaron Sorkin got the story idea from his sister, who in real life experienced a very similar incident at Guantanamo from the "Lieutenant Commander Galloway" perspective as a female JAG attorney. In that incident, the victim was similarly assaulted by nine Marines and was badly injured, but did not die. Sorkin initially turned the idea into a play, and then this screenplay, which was his first.
Jack Nicholson was paid $5 million for ten days' work. Technically, he worked an extra morning for free when Rob Reiner and crew didn't get all of his footage shot in time. Nicholson later admitted that it was one of the few times the money was well spent.
While filming the scene in which Kendrick is driving Kaffee's group around the base in a Humvee through two rows of marching Marines, Kiefer Sutherland had trouble driving the extra wide vehicle, and actually hit Marines on multiple takes.
Jack Nicholson told Rob Reiner he noticed that when he walked into the first rehearsal, the rest of the cast rushed to their seats. "Afterward I told him, 'Rob, it was so strange, I felt like the fucking Lincoln Memorial,'" Nicholson told the Los Angeles Times. "I blushed actually."
The title for the play and film came from a long-running recruiting campaign for the U.S. Marine Corps, "We're looking for a few good men." The campaign was slowly phased out through the 1980s with the well-known "The Few. The Proud. The Marines."
One of the ribbons on Colonel Jessep's dress uniform jacket is the Navy Cross. This is the second highest award for wartime valor given to Navy and Marine personnel, behind only the Medal of Honor in order of precedence.
Colonel Jessep warns Lieutenant Kendrick that Santiago needs to score "4646" on his next Proficiency and Conduct report. Jessep is referring to a system by which the performance of enlisted men is rated on a scale from 0.0 to 5.0; a score of 4.6 corresponds to a rating of "Excellent".
When searching for an appropriate setting for the trial, the producers learned that regular military courtrooms are plain and featureless offices. In order to create a more photogenic setting, they settled on a vacant courtroom in an empty courthouse.
Sorkin said he enjoyed working for Reiner, even though the director ordered him to make countless, rigorous revisions of his screenplay. One major revision: unlike in the play, where a doctored logbook is the smoking gun that gives Kaffee the break he needs, Reiner insisted that Cruise's Kaffee win the case on courtroom skills alone.
The Aaron Sorkin trademark of showing two characters walking down a hallway toward a moving camera talking sidelong to one another (as seen in The American President (1995), Sports Night (1998), and The West Wing (1999)) originated on this movie. A scene between Kaffee and Ross was written as being set in an office, but Rob Reiner, in an effort to create more action on-screen, suggested that it be changed so that they were walking down a hallway.
Director of photography Robert Richardson insisted that they use anamorphic lenses in the film, with the courtroom scenes in mind. Richardson wanted to be able to pull focus from one protagonist to another in those scenes. Rob Reiner was initially unsure about using this technique, but Richardson showed him that it could be very effective.
Sections of this film are used by the Air Force Judge Advocate training school at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, as training tools. In particular, the citing of Article 39A of the Uniform Code of Military Justice ("the witness has rights"), excusing the members (a.k.a. the jury) from viewing technical or procedural matters, and various other aspects of court-martial procedures. Particularly, the unrealistic nature of the court-martial itself, is often lampooned by instructors.
Gene Hackman turned down the role of Col. Nathan Jessep because he was busy playing Sheriff Little Bill Daggett in Clint Eastwood's masterpiece Unforgiven (1992). However, Hackman won the Oscar that competed with Jack Nicholson for Best Supporting Actor at the 1993 Oscars.
Lieutenant Kaffee is based on David Iglesias, a real-life Naval Reservist and Judge Advocate General, who later gained fame as one of the U.S. Attorneys (in his case, for New Mexico) fired by the George W. Bush administration shortly after the 2006 mid-term elections. Galloway is based on Deborah Sorkin, who worked with Iglesias on several cases, including the hazing case that inspired this play and film. She is also the sister of the author, Aaron Sorkin, and gave him the information he needed to dramatize the case.
That same year Jack Nicholson and J.T. Walsh appeared in Hoffa (1992) and became very good friends. When Nicholson won his third Oscar, he dedicated it to the memory of Walsh, who passed away months before the award.
At the opening of the outdoor lunch scene in Cuba, Colonel Jessup is discussing the first Gulf War with an amusing anecdote about Iraqi soldiers surrendering to a camera crew from CNN. This is actually based on real events from the conflict as hundreds of hungry, demoralized Iraqi conscripts surrendered themselves to the first westerners they could find. There are many documented cases of Iraqis who did in fact surrender to journalists who were following the advancing coalition ground forces.
Tri-Star Pictures produced the film with Aaron Sorkin writing the screenplay adaptation of his play. Tri-Star executives instructed Sorkin to make several changes to the story including a sex scene between Kaffe and Galloway. As this was Sorkin's first screenplay he did write it in although he had strong reservations about doing so since this does not occur in his play version. In Sorkin's words: "Nobody at Tri-Star was talking about a romance, by the way, we were just talking about these two people going to bed". When Rob Reiner came aboard to direct he used his clout against the studio and told the young Aaron Sorkin to toss the screenplay and start over. Reiner, who had seen the play and loved it, felt adding in a sexual encounter added nothing to the story and was just a cheap Hollywood thrill tactic.
The single military ribbon worn by Lieutenant (jg) Daniel Kaffee is the National Defense Service Medal, which is awarded to any member of the United States military who served honorably during a designated time period of which a "national emergency" had been declared. The movie takes place during the time period August 2, 1990 to November 30, 1995 for service during the Gulf War.
Both Marines were found guilty of "Conduct unbecoming a United States Marine" and were ordered by Judge Randolph to be dishonorably discharged. However, no such crime exists for enlisted personnel. Article 133 of the UCMJ makes "Conduct unbecoming an officer" a crime. But the two accused Marines were enlisted, rather than officers, and couldn't have been convicted under Article 133. Rather, an enlisted person could be separated under the general provision "For the good of the service." Aaron Sorkin has long acknowledged the error but did not feel it necessary to correct.
The line: "You want me on that wall! You need me on that wall!" was originally written in the script as "...you want me on that wall. You need me there..." but was changed by either Jack Nicholson or Rob Reiner during production.
Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) is a Lieutenant Junior Grade. This is one rank below the previous Navy officer whom he portrayed in Top Gun (1986), Lieutenant Pete "Maverick" Mitchell. Also, in this film, Joanne Galloway (Demi Moore) is a Lieutenant Commander. This is one rank higher than the next Navy officer whom she portrayed, Lieutenant Jordan O'Neill, in G.I. Jane (1997).
While Aaron Sorkin's screenplay remains mostly true to the dialogue in his original stage version, there are many variations between the two. For example the line "I like all you navy boys, any time we have to go somewhere to fight, you boys always give us a ride." is delivered by Lt. Kendrick in the film. In the play it is delivered by Corporal Barnes on the flight line. The concluding dialogue when Dawson says "We were supposed to fight for people who couldn't fight for themselves, we were supposed to fight for Willy." is actually a variant of a line delivered by Lt. Weinberg to Dawson. Weinberg, after the trial, presses Dawson to answer who he was supposed to fight for. Writer and "screenplay doctor" William Goldman made several uncredited revisions to the screenplay which Sorkin liked so much he changed the stage play to incorporate them.
John M. Jackson, who portrayed Captain West, was later cast as Admiral Albert Jethro Chegwidden in the television show JAG (1995), which was described by co-creator/producer Donald Bellisario in his pitch as a potential television series to executives at NBC as a cross between Top Gun (1985) and A Few Good Men (1992).
With the exception of a scene where Captain Ross' captains bars are worn correctly and Lieutenant Colonel Markinson's silver oak leaves in another scene, the insignia signifying the rank of the officers are not placed on their collars correctly.
Corporal Barnes, played by Noah Wyle, outranks Lance Corporal Dawson, yet says he would not administer a "Code Red" because Dawson would not allow it. However, he may have only recently been promoted to Corporal, and Dawson could have outranked him previously. The film makes a point of noting that Lance Corporal Dawson's promotion to Corporal was delayed. It is also just as likely that Corporal Barnes's testimony is meant to convey his respect (or fear) of Lance Corporal Dawson, in spite of his rank.
The planes shown on the tarmac at Guantanamo Bay are F-14 Tomcats. The last squadron at Gitmo was VC-10, which actually flew A-4 Skyhawks. This squadron disbanded in 1993. The scene was filmed at NAS Pt.Mugu. (you can tell by the mountains in the background behind the hangar. The same hangar is used as "Mitchell Field" in the film Pearl Harbor (2001)) Also the Island representing Cuba is actually OLF San Nicholas Island. Used by the Navy, OLF SNI is an outlying landing field also used as a radar station eighty miles due west of Oceanside, California, and is the smallest of what's known as "The Channel Islands" off the coast of southern California.
After Galloway tells Kaffee and Weinberg she has the medical reports and Chinese food, she suggests they eat first. After a beat, Weinberg asks, "You got any Kung Pao chicken?" Rob Reiner thought it should have gotten a laugh. He claimed it never did.
A couple of the plot devices were suggested by the Broadway play The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, such as someone being in "grave danger". In addition when Kaffee is willing to stipulate that all of the marines will testify the same way if it is agreed that none of them were in the room five minutes later is lifted directly from the Broadway play when Barney Greenwald suggests the same sort of stipulation in order to prevent all of the sailors from testifying.
When Lieutenant Commander Galloway is called into Captain West's office, there is a coffee cup on his desk. It is a cup from the U.S.S. Jouett CG-29. The ship has since been decommissioned and sunk as a target near the Philippines.
Lieutenant Kaffee is watching a baseball game at his home after returning from Cuba. The sports announcer that can be heard on the television is that of legendary San Diego Padres radio announcer Jerry Coleman, himself a former Marine officer and aviator who served in World War II and Korea. The ballgame shown was played on May 23, 1991 in Atlanta. The home run shown, hit by David Justice off Padre pitcher Steve Rosenberg, tied the game in the bottom of the tenth inning. The Padres won the game 11-10 in twelve innings (info from Baseball-Reference).
The announcer of the Braves-Padres game is the late Jerry Coleman. Before his playing career with the Yankees, he saw action as a USMC pilot in both WW 2 and Korea. While other baseball players served in two wars, like Ted Williams, Coleman was the only player to engage in combat in two conflicts. In WW2 Williams served as a flight instructor stateside. A statue honors the long-time Padre announcer for his service in that capacity and his service to our country at Petco Park in San Diego.
Commander Stone, a physician is asked to speculate on the cause of Santiago's death. No speculation would be necessary. The pathologist who performed the autopsy would give testimony as to the exact cause of death. This would have played a key role during this or any trial of this nature.
The name of the character portrayed by J.A. Preston, is Judge Julius Alexander Randolph. This might have been interpreted as a reference to the first two initials of the actor matching the first two initials for the character, but that would be incorrect. The character name of Judge Julius Alexander Randolph was the same in the Broadway play, which preceeded the production of the movie of the same name, and on Broadway, the actor portraying Judge Julius Alexander Randolph was Paul Butler, making the matching of the first two initials an interesting coincidence.
When Kaffee first meets Galloway, he almost leaves before she has officially dismissed him, to which he says, "I always forget that part." As he's interrogating Jessep in the courtroom, Jessep tries to leave, but Kaffee reminds him that he hasn't been dismissed yet, showing that Kaffee learned his lesson.
In the baseball game that Lieutenant Kaffee is watching when Lieutenant Commander Galloway came to inform him that Lieutenant Colonel Markinson had gone U.A., is between the San Diego Padres and the Atlanta Braves. In the scene, David Justice hits a three-run home run on a full count to tie the game.
The planes shown on the tarmac at Guantanamo Bay are F-14s. The hangar used, was also used in Pearl Harbor (2001), as"Mitchell Field". In Top Gun (1986), Tom Cruise's character's last name was Mitchell, and he flew an F-14.
The shot of the UC-12 airplane landing at "Guantanamo" with Kaffee, Galloway, and Weinberg is actually landing at NOLF San Nicholas Island a US Navy airfield in the Channel Islands off Southern California.
The role of Daniel Kaffee was originally played on stage by Tom Hulce. Kevin Bacon and Tom Hulce appeared together in National Lampoon's Animal House, along with Donald Sutherland--Keifer Sutherland's father.
Charles Erwin: The marching band in the beginning is The Capital Band, and has a brief mention in the closing credits. The man in black is former Assistant Conductor and solo cornet for the President's Marine band.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Jack Nicholson repeated his famous courtroom monologue as Colonel Jessep off-camera several times so Rob Reiner could film the reactions of other actors and actresses from various angles. Nicholson's memorable on-camera performance was filmed last, but according to Reiner and the other cast members, Nicholson gave it his all every take as if he was on camera. Nicholson said he was "quite spent" by the time he finished.
In Aaron Sorkin's June 1991 draft, the film does not end with the iconic shot of Tom Cruise admiring the courtroom one last time. Instead, it ends with Daniel Kaffee asking Jo Galloway out on a date, and she instructs him to wear lucky socks, exactly what she told him to do before the first day of the trial.
Steven Spielberg provided some of the dialogue, including "You can't HANDLE the truth!", David Kendall also modelled for the main character, Daniel A. Kaffee, in some scenes. Kendall became famous much later when he defended President Bill Clinton's impeachment before the House and Senate.