A Few Good Men is a great example of the use of foils. A foil is a minor character that is used to highlight certain traits in a main character. A foil’s character traits can either be the same as or opposite to those of a main character. The protagonist and the antagonist in A Few Good Men each have two characters that serve as foils.
Lt. Kaffee (the hero, aka protagonist), not so ironically, is assigned two attorneys to assist him on the case. One attorney is Lt. Weinburg, who doesn’t wish to get too involved in the case. In fact, he describes his role in the case as having no responsibility whatsoever. He has predetermined their guilt and wishes to simply plea it out. He highlights the Daniel Kaffee we are introduced to at the beginning of the movie, a Kaffee that has already decided that the case will result in a plea deal without ever speaking to his clients.
The other attorney assigned to assist Kaffee is Lt. Cdr. JoAnne Galloway. Galloway is determined not to see this case get pushed under the rug and constantly pushes Kaffee to look deeper. In fact, she tells Kaffee that her job is to make sure that he does his job. She adds that she wouldn’t be doing her job if she let Kaffee get away with treating this case like he does all of his others. Thus, she represents the Kaffee we want to see, a Kaffee that pursues the truth no matter where it leads. The audience is given just enough information to know that there is more to the story and so these two foils are used to personify Kaffee’s dilemma: will he have the courage to pursue the truth or not?
Lt. Col. Jessup (the adversary, aka antagonist) is also flanked by two foils, Lt. Col. Matthew Markinson and Lt. Jonathan Kendrick. Kendrick believes, like Jessup, in following orders no matter what. Jessup tells Markinson that he and Kendrick see eye to eye on how to run a Marine Corp unit. But Markinson, on the other hand, believes in following orders up to a point. Markinson believes there is some room for independent evaluation of orders, especially if they are illegal orders. After Jessup orders that Santiago stay in Cuba in order to be “trained,” Markinson expresses his disagreement. Jessup responds rather pointedly that Markinson was never to question his orders. As it turns out, Markinson felt partly responsible for Santiago’s death because he went along with Jessup’s philosophy of following orders no matter what. In his suicide note, Markinson states that he did what he could to bring the truth to light and that Santiago is dead because he didn’t have the strength to stop it. In other words, he lacked the courage to do what was right (theme). His fear of Jessup overcame his courage to reveal the truth. In this sense, he also serves as a foil to Kaffee, who also must overcome his fear of Jessup and find the courage to expose the truth. Thus, Kaffee has the opportunity to succeed where Markinson failed.
So next time you watch a movie be on the lookout for foils. See if you can identify the other characters in the story who are either the same as or opposite a main character in a certain way in order to highlight a specific trait in the main character. Share with us what you find. Post a comment and tell us the name of the movie and how the foils were used in the film.
Copyright 2008, Ryan Blue