Plot hole in A Few Good Men

A Few Good Men is one of my favorite movies, and any time it is on TNT, I’m down for watching it. But there’s a plot hole I’ve noticed over time, and I created an account here just to get your guys’ feedback and see if I’m missing something. This plot hole really comes in 3 parts…the first 2 I can rationalize but the 3rd I really can’t. They all have to do with the prosecution’s case against Dawson and Downey. Especially Downey.

The prosecution’s case is that Private Santiago wanted to get transferred so he wrote to some internal affairs team that in exchange for a transfer he would provide information on Dawson’s illegal fenceline shooting. Kendrick then shared this information with the troops, but ordered them not to take matters into their own hands. Dawson and Downey saw this as an opportunity to murder Santiago to shut him up by shoving a poisoned rag down his throat, while making it look like a Code Red.

Plot hole #1: If they were ordered not to take matters into their own hands, why would Dawson and Downey think that they could get away with killing Santiago in a manner that looked like a Code Red? It would be immediately suspicious given the order not to touch Santiago, and an investigation would surely condemn them. It just doesn’t make any sense that Dawson and Downey would plan the murder in this way.

I’m willing to let this one slide under the auspice of “sometimes characters do dumb stuff.” But plot hole 2 is a little more serious.

Plot hole #2: Dawson has the motive to kill Santiago, not Downey (it’s Dawson who was involved in the fenceline shooting). So isn’t Downey’s only provable crime as they are entering the trial that he disobeyed Kendrick’s order not to touch Santiago? There is no evidence of a conspiracy between Downey and Dawson. From Downey’s point of view, this was just Dawson telling him “forget what Kendrick said, we’re giving this guy a Code Red.” Then Dawson poisons the rag without Downey knowing, and Santiago dies. At this point, isn’t the worst thing they could really do to Downey is give him a dishonorable discharge for disobeying Kendrick’s order and obeying Dawson’s instead?

Now alright, maybe Downey is not willing to take a dishonorable discharge. He and Downey certainly do not respond well to the plea bargain offer of 2 years and a dishonorable discharge, maybe even a dishonorable discharge in and of itself is unacceptable to him. But this brings us to Plot hole #3, which is really just an extension of Plot hole #2.

Plot hole #3: Downey never heard Kendrick say not to touch Santiago. His jeep broke down and he missed the meeting. This means that all Downey was doing was following Dawson’s order to give the code red. He wasn’t knowingly disobeying Kendrick’s order because he never heard it! Could the prosecution have suspected that Downey was in on a conspiracy with Dawson to help him kill Santiago. Sure. But they could not prove it in a court of law. Downey had no motive.

Galloway was Downey’s attorney. As soon as Smilin’ Jack Ross proved in court that Downey did not hear Kendrick order the Code Red, her responsibility to her client would have been to sever the joint defense with Dawson. The government had no case against Downey at this point. All the government would be able to prove is that Downey executed a Code Red ordered by his superior against a Marine he had no motive to kill, with a rag that they cannot prove he knew was poisoned. After Noah Wylie’s character gets on the stand and talks about how common Code Reds are, even a dishonorable discharge seems like a stretch for the prosecution to get against Downey. In the end, Dawson and Downey did get dishonorable discharges for the Code Red, but the prosecution would not have considered that a slam dunk against Downey and in any case would not have cared enough to continue with the trial against him. Dawson was the man they had dead to rights….they needed someone to blame, and he would be the guy. The case vs Downey would be dropped, and he’d be turned into a prosecution witness.

I have a hard time getting around this plot hole. I suppose it’s possible one of the other guys in the squad told Downey about the prohibition against touching Santiago. But we’re never told that. I guess it’s also possible that Downey is the only one who handles the rag from start to finish, (he is the one who shoves the rag in Santiago’s mouth at the beginning of the movie) eliminating his ability to truthfully testify that it’s possible Dawson poisoned the rag without his knowledge. But again, this is not information we’re given. It’s just a big plot hole with no explanation.

Am I missing something?

Well, there’s another movie I don’t need to bother watching!

I’m a little confused by your questions, but I blame the fact I am really tired today, let me give this a try-

Dawson and Downey had no intention of killing Santiago. They intended to torment him a little and shave his head, teaching him not to break the chain of command. He died because of the medical condition. Downey listened to Dawson because Dawson is his superior and he passed along an order given by Kendrick. The movie makes a huge point that the order wouldn’t be questioned because these Marines don’t question orders. Doesn’t matter what the other guys are told, or that code red are not “lawful” orders. They wouldn’t know a lawful order, or that they should question it.

Jack Ross is only working with the idea that these guys poisoned their troopmate so he wouldn’t inform on Dawson. The code red isn’t even on the radar as far as he is concerned.

Make sense?

One of my favorites too, saw it the first time in Basic Training, while on a field ex. Big field, about 90 of us sitting in a meadow, full cam-paint, rifles at our sides, middle of the night. Kind of awesome really.


What you’re describing is what actually happened.

What I’m saying is there is a huge plot hole in terms of Downey’s culpability based on what the prosecution is CLAIMING happened.


  1. Downey had no motive because it was Dawson that Santiago was informing on and
  2. Downey never heard Kendrick’s order not to touch Santiago because his jeep broke down and he missed the meeting

Then what is Downey being accused of? What proof is there that he was part of a conspiracy to poison Santiago rather than just being used by Dawson as a pawn, thinking he’s just delivering a run-of-the-mill Code Red while Dawson is the mastermind with the motive who actually poisons the rag.

So even before Jessup admits everything on the stand, what on Earth is Downey actually on trial for? They have no proof that he was in on the supposed conspiracy.

Well, yeah, if my reading of the situation is correct, you are missing something. Letter of the law is not the point of the movie, disrespect for it is. To Kaffee and the Marines it’s expediency.

Points 1 and 2, didn’t the Army choose Kaffe in the first place because of his reputation? Just to wrap this up and get it out of here? Nuances and proof and facts and motives and such like were not ever considered by the Marine lawyers. Just pile up up some charges, get Kaffee to plead 'em out, and done. Someone’s dead. Clean this up.

As far as Dawson and Downey, the former won’t question. He knows what happened. Downey, think for himself and analyze, really?

Point 3 again refers not to facts but to the reality of the situation. Galloway is more interested in getting Kendrick, and being a part of this exciting trial, than thinking about points of law. Heck, we have posited as fact that she is an awful trial lawyer, and that she hero worships Kaffe. Severing the trial to be left out of the most exciting righteous thing she’s ever done, going alone, walking away from Kaffee? Not going to happen. In all fairness, she probably never even thought of it.

I love this movie, too, and watch it often. The point to me is how the law is ignored, maligned, misinterpreted, and twisted by all characters (except the judge :slight_smile: ) making more delicious the irony of “I’m above the law” Kendrick being caught by the letter of the law.

It is not the prosecution’s contention that Dawson and Downey were trying to make it look like a code red. It was their contention that D&D flat out murdered Santiago with a poisoned rag to keep him from talking about the fence line shooting. It doesn’t really matter why Downey went along with it (friends with Dawson, afraid of Dawson, etc). He participated in a murder.

The prosecution didn’t want any mention of code reds, which is why Ross offered Kaffey such a sweet deal when he brought the subject up.

He is being accused of murder, disobeying a direct order and conduct unbecoming (the catch-all). It doesn’t matter if he wasn’t in on the conspiracy, if you go along with the idea that the rag was poisoned, than he helped tape Santiago’s hands and feet and tape his mouth. Motive doesn’t need to be anything more than he is Dawson’s little toadie, he doesn’t need anything more direct than “You ratted out my buddy!” To the disobedience part, orders given in O groups are always passed down, he would have known about Kendrick’s order.

In the end, just attacking and taping up a fellow soldier was enough to get him charged with conduct unbecoming. He should have know enough to question the order

“Conduct unbecoming” is short for “Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman.” Downey was an enlisted man.

Huh. I just did some Googling. Dawson and Downey are found guilty of “conduct unbecoming a United States Marine.” The UCMJ doesn’t have charges specific to various branches of the military, so of course “conduct unbecoming a United States Marine” doesn’t exist.

Yes, but the movie made up the crime of “conduct unbecoming a Marine” to get around that.

Article 134

To quote Gunny Hartman; ‘…so you can give your heart to Jesus, but your ass belong to the Corps.’

Col. Jessup saying that he did order the Code Red, removing plot hole #1.

Plot hole #2 solved because stupid asses followed orders.

Plot hole #3; I can’t be bothered to chase it down. The Colonel gave an order and somehow enlisted Marined received and followed the illegal orders.

Leading to the end of the movie; Marines are supposed to protect people like the dead Marine.

IANAL and am definitely INA JAG Lawyer but I think that there are probably many more legal plot holes in a military movie centered around legal issues.

Article 134

Your points are well taken. It still seems though that even with Galloway being a bad lawyer, Kaffee himself would’ve gotten the charges against Downey thrown out or close to it before the trial ever started. In his plea bargain discussions with Ross, why isn’t Kaffee bringing up that Downey has no motive, hero worships Dawson, and was in his mind just giving a Code Red. While Ross might’ve offered 2 years for Dawson, you’ve got to think he would offer something much, much less for Downey–something that would not result in jail time at all.

Great point. BUT, Ross DID know that Kaffee would bring up Code Reds if it went to trial. The natural line of defense for Dawson is exactly what Kaffee did. But the natural line of defense for Downey is to say “Here’s a dumb kid with no motive vs Santiago who hero worshiped Dawson, was ordered by Dawson to help him execute a Code Red, and had absolutely no idea about any poison.” There’s no way Downey could be convicted for murder under those circumstances. They’ve got Dawson dead to rights as long as Kendrick lies on the stand and says he didn’t order the Code Red, but Downey? No way. So you would think that Ross would just dismiss the charges against Downey given he has such a weak case and does NOT want it to go to trial. Just focus on convicting Dawson.

This only strengthens what I’m saying about Downey. All he did was follow an order to give a Code Red. He has no motive. The prosecution’s case is air-tight vs Dawson, but they’ve really got nothing vs Downey given how common Code Reds were, Downey’s hero worship of Dawson, and the fact that Downey didn’t actually hear Kendrick’s order not to touch Santiago.

But Kendrick’s order would’ve been passed down to him by whom? Wouldn’t it have been by his squad leader Lance Corporal Dawson? And if instead, Lance Corporal Dawson ordered him to execute a Code Red, then Downey would never have known of Kendrick’s order and would simply be executing a common, though illegal, training tactic.

You’re right, the conduct unbecoming part still stands as anybody executing a Code Red could theoretically be convicted of this, but Jack Ross doesn’t want this going to trial just so he can stick Downey with a conduct unbecoming charge and get him kicked out of the Marines. You’ve got to think Ross would plea bargain Downey down to something insignificant and then focus his prosecution on Dawson. And Kaffee should’ve been saying this to Ross during their plea bargain negotiations:

“Jack, you’ve got no case against Downey. He didn’t have a motive. He was just doing what his squad leader told him. You can’t prove he was involved in any poison conspiracy. Let’s call it 2 weeks in the brig.”

Still, though: Tom Cruise was confident-to-the-point-of-cocky (but I repeat myself) about easily getting his client six months – “a hockey season!” – with a plea bargain, and was told by the defendant, nope, won’t do it; I’ll serve whatever they sentence me too, but I will not plead guilty for doing nothing wrong.

My problem with D&D is how light they got off. Lawfully ordered to or not they killed a fellow marine even if they only meant to beat him up.

They did the act, 25 years in Leavenworth and then a bad conduct discharge.

That hockey season line is a wonderful one, thanks for reminding me of it.

You’ve got a great point, BUT, wasn’t it Dawson who was so morally opposed to pleading guilty? Downey was just going along with whatever Dawson said. If Kaffee or Galloway had taken Downey aside by himself and said, “Listen, the prosecution has a strong case against Dawson but not against you. We’re not sure what will happen to Hal, but if you just plead to this misdemeanor and spend a couple of weeks in the brig, you can rejoin your squad,” wouldn’t he have gone for it?