FILMS

Stouthearted men

Soldiers and politicians fill the screen

Brian D. Johnson December 14 1992
FILMS

Stouthearted men

Soldiers and politicians fill the screen

Brian D. Johnson December 14 1992

Stouthearted men

FILMS

Soldiers and politicians fill the screen

BRIAN D. JOHNSON

Perhaps no movie star has portrayed evil with more charisma, conviction and gusto than Jack Nicholson. And after a career of pushing characters to sinister extremes, it is hard to imagine him going any further. But as a villainous colonel in the court-martial drama A Few Good Men, he cranks it up one more notch, unleashing previously untapped depths of venom. His appearance, however, is brief. The movie is a Tom Cruise vehicle, a meat-and-potatoes course in military ethics with a white-bread hero. Appearing in just three scenes, Nicholson is the appetizer and dessert. And although his performance is mesmerizing, the rest of the movie is predictable Hollywood fare.

A FEW GOOD MEN

Directed by Rob Reiner

Based on the 1989 Broadway hit, A Few Good Men revolves around the trial of two marines accused of murdering a soldier during a disciplinary hazing on the U.S. base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Joanne (Demi Moore), a navy lawyer in Washington, desperately wants to defend them. But her superiors, hoping to wrap up the case with a routine plea bargain, hand it to a glib junior litigator named Daniel (Cruise). At first, he expresses more interest in playing softball than courtroom hardball. But pressured by Joanne and haunted by the legacy of his dead

father, also a navy lawyer, he finally decides to take the high road. Flaunting Ivy League charm, he confronts a variety of marine automatons, including a bald, scary corporal played by Kiefer Sutherland and Col. Jessep, the raging Cold War dinosaur played by Nicholson.

Meanwhile, Moore’s character quickly dissolves into a doting helpmate who serves her hero takeout dinners as he does his legal homework—and who endures Jessep’s sexual harassment without complaint. But Nicholson is so rivetting in A Few Good Men that he makes one bad man seem infinitely more interesting than any number of good ones.

THE CRYING GAME Directed by Neil Jordan

Right from the movie’s opening scene, appearances are deceiving. Off duty and happily drunk, a black British soldier named Jody (Forest Whitaker) falls into the arms of an alluring blonde named Jude (Miranda Richardson) at a seaside carnival in Northern Ireland. She lures him down to the beach and unhitches her denim skirt. But as they start to kiss, she suddenly squirms away and he finds himself staring down the barrel of a gun. The seduction is a setup by kidnappers from the Irish Republican Army. And that is just the first of many twists in The

Crying Game, an extraordinary movie that shifts from thriller to love story and back again without missing a beat.

The IRA terrorists hold Jody hostage in a remote farmhouse, pledging to kill him in three days if British authorities fail to release one of the nationalists’ imprisoned leaders. Jody finds a streak of sympathy in Fergus (Stephen Rea) one of his captors. And as the deadline for the execution draws near, a friendship begins to form between the two men. Jody talks of his love for cricket, and for his girlfriend in London, a hairdresser named Dil Gaye Davidson). Beyond that, even the most basic plot summary would spoil the story. A breathtaking revelation midway through the movie hits with the force of a hidden bomb.

Intelligently written and directed by Ireland’s Neil Jordan, The Crying Gam^resembles Mona Lisa, his 1986 thriller about a white chauffeur and a black prostitute. Once again, Jordan explores issues of racial and sexual identity. But in The Crying Game, his themes of loyalty and compassion acquire a deeper, political resonance. And excellent performances by Rea, Whitaker and a chameleon-like Richardson make the The Crying Game the most engaging film of Jordan’s impressive career.

THE DISTINGUISHED GENTLEMAN

Directed by Jonathan Lynn

When Eddie Murphy shows up in a movie with political content and satirical bite, the times must surely be changing. At first glance, The Distinguished Gentleman is just another fishout-of-water farce—a formula that Murphy has effectively milked in such hits as 48 Hours (1982), Trading Places (1983) and Beverly Hills Cop (1984). But after a recent string of duds, Murphy is funnier than he has been in years. The movie also contains a surprisingly trenchant exposé of political life in Washington. Screenwriter Marty Kaplan, who served as chief speechwriter for Walter Mondale when he was vice-president, has written a script tha* carries the sting of political authenticity— despite its facile premise.

After a Florida congressman named Jeff Johnson Games Gamer) dies during a re-election campaign, a small-time hustler named Thomas Jefferson Johnson (Murphy) uses name-recognition to win his seat. In Washington, Thomas pursues his confidence game on a grand scale, teaming up with an influencepeddling congressman, Dick Dodge (Lane Smith). But a pro bono lawyer named Loretta (Sheryl Lee Ralph) pricks the hero’s conscience, and heart, with a scandal involving cancer clusters at schools near hydro lines.

Such topical details are a treat, but the movie never takes itself too seriously. British director Jonathan Lynn, who created the satirical British TV series Yes, Minister and directed last summer’s hit comedy My Cousin Vinny, keeps the farce tasty and focused—while holding his star’s ego in check. The Distinguished Gentleman lets Murphy do what he does best, in distinguished company.