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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

And one not half-bad broad

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Plot Overview

ole gloryPFC William Santiago (Michael DeLorenzo) is a front line Marine holding the fort at Gitmo. Corpsman Dr. Stone (Christopher Guest) had given him a clean bill of health, so the guy's nascent aches and pains are not taken seriously; it was heat exhaustion, they told him. He breaches protocol by breaking the chain of command to complain higher up. A retaliatory routine hazing results in his death. Blamed are two grunts Lance Corporal Harold Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) and PFC Louden Downey (James Marshall) who did it, but they never intended to kill him. They're charged with murder.

a swing and a missThe Corps to avoid embarrassment assigns a fledgling Marine Lieutenant Junior Grade Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) as the lead defense counsel known for his propensity to plead out cases. His passion is softball and he joined the JAG to please his now dead dad who was a noteworthy trial lawyer having once defended a black girl who wanted to go to an all-white school. His researcher is Lt. Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak) a family man who wants to see it wrapped up so he can return home. Monitoring him on site is Internal Affairs Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) who wants to see the defendants get a square deal, but her excessive passion makes her a liability. Downey's Aunt Ginny hires her to represent him, as well, but her role is mostly decorative.

Uncle SamAll goes as planned. Kaffee gets offered an unheard of deal: pleading to involuntary manslaughter, his clients will get a two year sentence and be out in six months. It's the probable dishonorable discharge that Dawson balks at, and Downey just follows his lead. His response to the offer is:

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.

Dawson though light skinned has Negroid features. A White guy might have leapt at the offer, but to him being part of this code adhering-to club put him in some kind of group his features kept him out of. Kaffee tries to disabuse him of that notion: “Harold, you don't need to have a patch on your arm to have honor.” The court-martial proceeds against a stacked deck with not much hope.


The Marine code is presented as: “Unit—Corps—God—Country.” At least God is in there some­where. By the crucifixes hung on his wall & his Latino name, we take it Santiago is Catholic. The Catholic catechism includes temperance. Webster defines “temperance 1: moderation in action, thought, or feeling: restraint. 2: habitual moderation in the indulgence of the appetites or passions; specif: moderation in or abstinence from the use of intoxicating drink.” As a Christian ethic it's expressed as being (1Cor. 9:24-25) “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a cor­rup­tible crown; but we an in­cor­rup­tible.” It's also a fruit of the Spirit in opposition to no law, as listed in Gal. 5:22-23. Santiago's “heat exhaustion” resulted in doctor's orders restricting him for a month to runs of five miles or less. He knowing his body couldn't take much more of this, requested a transfer to a less demanding post. The doc and he were looking at temperance1, i.e. moderation.

Nor is this so much in conflict with the Marine code itself. The president is commander in chief of all the armed services. California Gov. Gavin Newsom in a March, 2024 interview extolled President Biden, saying: “We have American manufacturing coming back home, all because of Biden's wisdom, because of his temperance, his capacity to lead in a bipartisan manner—” Bipartisan leader­ship is by nature temperate.

In literature the principle of restraint in virtue is contemplated by St. John of Kronstadt: (552)

    Be moderate in all religious works, for moderation, even in virtue, correspondingly to your powers, according to circumstances of time, place, and previous labour, is prudent and wise.  It is well, for instance, to pray with a pure heart, but as soon as there is no correspondence between the prayer and your powers (energy), with the various circumstances of place and time, with your preceding labours, then it ceases to be a virtue.  There­fore the apostle Peter says, (2Peter 1:5) “add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;” (that is, do not be carried away by the heart only); (2Pet. 1:6) “And to knowledge temperance.”

Their squad's commanding officer, 2nd. Lt. Jonathan Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland) was conflicted over relaying an illegal order (for hazing.) His position was, “I believe in God and his son Jesus Christ.” His code was represented by, “two books at my bed­side: The Marine Corps Code of Conduct and the King James Version [of the Bible.]”

Temperance1 as well as being part of the Catholic catechism is in the Protestants' KJV Bible in various places. However, it has been reinterpreted by modern Bible translators as self-control so as not to confuse the common man who since Prohibition has come to regard temperance2 as applicable only to drink. My Concise Thesaurus has “sober adj. temperate. A person who is sober is not drunk. A temperate person exercises moderation and self-restraint and for that reason is unlikely to drink to excess.” (170) Modern Protestant Bibles read “self-control” where they used to read “temperance.” Let's see how that would work out in this film.

AFGM opens on some parade ground rifle drills employing self-control par excellence. It soon covers Danny's sentence bargaining for the best deal (“He successfully plea bargained 44 cases in 9 months.”) That'd be temperance. Sand­wiched in there is Lt. Galloway rehearsing her request for assignment to the case. Her loopy self-control puts her in danger of over­thinking it where a more temperate approach is all it takes for her request to be denied no matter how she put it. Self- control and temperance are not the same animal.

Solomon provides a metaphor, (Eccl. 4:13-14) “Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished. For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor.” The wise native words of our King James Version (KJV) have become poor in currency due to reduced usage in ordinary speech. Never­the­less, the wise KJV is still better than the foolish, intract­able modern ones that place them­selves beyond correction from pew or scholar, “For out of prison he cometh to reign,” that is there's some kind of sordid history behind this “king,” which makes this movie insightful about what went into making our modern English Bibles, from the RSV onwards.

Rather than the corrupt speech the king brings from his former prison days, we can see the same thing from a porno incident where two angels showed up to warn Lot that God was about to destroy the wicked city of Sodom where he was living. The Sodomites wanted to molest his visitors, but Lot gave them an alternative: (Gen. 19:8-11) “Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for there­fore came they under the shadow of my roof. And they said, Stand back. And they said again, This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with thee, than with them. And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and came near to break the door. But the men put forth their hand, and pulled Lot into the house to them, and shut to the door. And they smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great: so that they wearied them­selves to find the door.”

The compromise offer of the virgins is temperate, a solution of moderation. Allowing the men to molest his guests would violate the demands of hospitality in that culture. Author Brad Thor offers an example: “The traditional code of honor among the Pashtun, known as Pashtunwali, dictated every aspect of their lives and was very explicit. Once a Pashtun invited some­one into his home, he was honor-bound to protect that guest at all costs, even if it meant fighting to his own death to protect him” (7–8.) The blinded men strug­gling to find the door to get at the hand­some angels is a determined exercise in self-control to pursue their nasty ends. In our movie Kendrick rather than refusing the order passed it on to the other two Marines who also should have known better than to open the private's door and bind and gag him with tragic results.

soldierRemember what happened in the Bible when the apostle Paul was mobbed by the Jews in Jerusalem for preaching the resurrection of the dead, which didn't set well with them. A troop of soldiers rescued Paul and spirited him away to be investi­gated by the governor Felix for that disturbance of the pax Romana (peace of Rome.) Felix found Paul had done nothing amiss, it was no concern of his the particulars of Jewish beliefs. But rather than set Paul free outright he kept him under house arrest.

Roman officer(Acts 24:23-26) “And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him. And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee. He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: where­fore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him.”

It was intemperate of Felix to further keep Paul under guard. Temperance was what Paul wanted. It was denied him through the iron willed self-control of an authority who had other ideas though he knew better.

Modernized, Protestant, English Bibles have been substituting self-control for temperance, which is a malapropism. It can mean the opposite of the other as it does above, depending on the circumstance. Paul didn't want Felix to be more self-controlled in his set course but to temper his sentence to time served. That, we gather, is one of the reasons he was preaching temperance. It's as Baldacci has put in a novel:

“Cops have zip. You were in jail at the time. The judge dismissed the case with­out prejudice, but they can't re-charge you unless they have some evidence tying you to the crime. Now, they may go out and get some. Find an accomplice who did the killings for you for some reason. They may even make something up.”

“Can they do that?” asked Leopold in childlike wonder.

“Sure. They do it all the time. If they think you're a bad guy they'll do anything to nail you, get you off the streets. They're sworn to protect and defend. You can see that, right?” (158)

Which translation is God's word?As George P. Marsh put it in an 1859 post­graduate lecture on the English Bible of 1611, (448–9):

the English Bible sustains, and always has sustained to the general English tongue, the position of a treatise upon a special know­ledge requiring, like any branch of science, a special nomen­clature and phrase­ology. The language of the law, for example, in both vocabu­lary and structure, differs widely from that of unpro­fes­sional life; the language of medicine, of meta­physics, of astronomy, of chemistry, of mechanical art, all these have their approp­riate idioms, very diverse from the speech which is the common heri­tage of all. Why, then, should theology, the highest of know­ledges, alone be required to file her tongue to the vulgar utterance, when every other human interest has its own approp­riate expression, which no man thinks of conforming to a standard that, because it is too common, can hardly be other than unclean?

penguin on skisThe base commander Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) rather than transfer the sick guy out decided, for fear of other­wise starting down a slippery slope diminishing the strength of the unit, to “train” him using all means at his disposal, legal or not. When disaster struck he used his self-control and intelligence back­ground to do a royal cover-up.

Production Values

” (1992) was directed by Rob Reiner. It was written by Aaron Sorkin based on his own play. It stars Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore. Also featured were Kevin Bacon and other recognizable faces in suitable places. The acting was expectedly good.

MPAA rated it R for language. It was filmed at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, Point Mugu, California, USA (Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base, Cuba.) Runtime is 2 hours 18 minutes.

Review Conclusion w/a Christian's Recommendation

This is a well-written legal drama filled with frisson, passion, and suspense. Smoke and mirrors abound. It explores conflicts between conscience towards a higher power and obedience to the chain of command. Ironically, the military code and the KJV are in alignment in opposition to modern English translations and a base commander full of him­self. The reasons why all the parties acted as they did are presented fairly. Catholicism and historical Protestantism are in agreement here. There's a lot to think about including a race component although overt racism is avoided. This is a most excellent movie.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Fit For a Friday Evening. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall movie rating: Five stars out of five.

Works Cited

Unless otherwise stated, scripture quotations are from the Authorized King James Version (KJV.) Pub. 1611. Rev. 1769. Software.

Baldacci, David. Memory Man. Copyright © 2015 by Columbus Rose, Ltd. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2015. Print.

Biden, Joe. Quoted from Jack Birle's article, “Gavin Newsom calls Biden's age a 'gift' rather than a liability.” In The Washington Examiner. Web.

Marsh, George P. “Formation of our English sacred dialect.”
       Lectures on the English Language. London: John Murray, 1863. Print.
       ——available to read or download at www.bibles.n7nz.org.

The Right Word II. A Concise Thesaurus. Based on the New American Heritage Dictionary. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1983. Print.

Sergieff, Archpriest John Iliytch. My Life in Christ. or Moments of Spiritual Serenity and Contemplation, of Reverent Feeling, of Earnest Self-Amendment, and Peace in God: Extracts from the diary of St. John of Kronstadt (Arch­priest John Iliytch Sergieff). Trans­lated with the author's sanction, from the Fourth and Supplemental Edition by E.E. Goulaeff. St. Peters­burg. Jordans­ville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 2000. Print.

Thor, Brad. The Apostle. Copyright © 2009 by Brad Thor. New York: Pocket Books, 2010. Print.

Webster's Ninth New College Dictionary. Springfield, Massachusetts, Merriam-Webster, 1983. Print.