What Makes “You Can’t Handle The Truth” One Of The Greatest Scenes Ever!
Film Courage: Let’s take the courtroom scene in A FEW GOOD MEN, break it down by beats and why some of the parts are so memorable (especially the infamous line from Jessup) to the end?
Michael Hauge: Sure. Well it depends if you’re talking about the whole courtroom…the whole trial, because the trial actually begins at the mid-point and then it ends at the climax and carries all the way through the end of the movie.
So through the trial it’s been using a number of key structural devices. One is, you want to move back and forth between the hero being in control and the opposition being in control. So you want the audience to be kept a little bit off-balance.
At times we think “Okay, now Kaffee is really winning” and then the Kevin Bacon character (Capt. Jack Ross), the prosecuting attorney, “Oh, no. Now comes back, now he’s winning. And then on no…now he’s winning.” So you don’t just want it to be bad…bad…bad…bad…bad…and then good…good…good…good…good. It’s got to go back and forth…back and forth, so there are sort of peaks and valleys to the emotional experience of that overall sequence. The next thing you want to do is…it also combines a couple of key structural devices…one is Anticipation and one is Surprise. Anticipation means, we’re trying to find out what is going to happen next. And you can increase that device or you can strengthen that tool if you use what I refer to as Superior Position. So let your audience know something that some of your characters don’t know.
“…Sometimes the audience doesn’t want to try and predict what is going to happen next. They want to be totally surprised.”
For example, we know that (Lt. Daniel Kaffee, played by Tom Cruise) Kaffee is going to try and call Jessup (Col. Nathan R. Jessup, played by Jack Nicholson) and try and get him to admit what he did, but nobody else knows, so we’re anticipating what is going to happen when Jessup gets up there. How is he going to go about doing that? That’s actually curiosity, as well as anticipation. We anticipate what is going to happen when he calls up the Airmen that were in the flight tower for this non-existent flight and calls them up to testify and we’re curious about that and we’re anticipating what that is going to be like. And we’re anticipating what is the going to do now that Markinson has passed away.
So a lot of it is “What’s going to happen now? What’s going to happen now? What’s going to happen next? What’s going to happen next?” But sometimes the audience doesn’t want to try and predict what is going to happen next. They want to be totally surprised. So one surprise is when we learn later that those two guys from the tower didn’t know anything about the flight. They were just a red herring. They were just there to make Jessup believe that he had the evidence that he didn’t have. We weren’t given that information ahead of time (“we” in the audience). So that created a twist. That created surprise. So sometimes you want to lead your audience toward anticipating and expecting something, sometimes you want to turn the tables on them, or jump out and go “Boo!” or something completely unexpected…(watch the video on Youtube here).
To immediately get your free copy of Michael Hauge’s 6-Stage Structure Chart, just go to Storymastery.com/fcchart
BUY MICHAEL HAUGE’S BOOK – WRITING SCREENPLAYS THAT SELL, NEW TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY EDITION:
The Complete Guide To Turning Story Concepts Into Movie and Television Deals
Learn the screenwriting secrets behind successful cinematic stories in the world of film & television script writing.
Paul Castro the original writer of the Warner Bros. hit movie, AUGUST RUSH.He is a produced, award winning screenwriter and world-renowned screenwriting professor. Success leaves clues and so do masterfully crafted screenplays that sell for millions of dollars.
Show Business is an American comedy that follows screenwriter Guy Franklin as he moves from NYC to LA with his fiancé. It should be a great gig but Guy soon realizes that being in Show Business and balancing his life love is easier said than done – a movie by Composer/Filmmaker Alexander Tovar