Rules Of Engagement


Directed by: William Friedkin
Written by:James Webb, Stephen Gaghan
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Kingsley, Blair Underwood, Anne Archer, Mark Feuerstein
Released: August 17, 2000
Grade: A-

Colonel Hayes Hodges (Jones) is a marine lawyer with two weeks to retirement.  He fought proudly in Vietnam but the injuries he sustained kept him from any future combat.  In Vietnam, Hayes forged a friendship with comrade Colonel Terry Childers.  Childers’s negotiation of a ceasefire in trying circumstances saved the life of Hodges and he’s remained indebted to him ever since.

Some 28 years later, Childers, now a highly regarded military leader, is on assignment in Yemen.  His job - to evacuate the American ambassador (Kingsley) and his family whilst avoiding hostility with local protesters.  Unexpected events transpire and the American troops find themselves under direct fire and three soldiers are killed.  Childers gives command to “waste those mother fuckers” and 83 Yemenese (many women and children) are slaughtered.

Back in the U.S., a media circus has erupted and relations between the States and Yemen are at boiling point.  Someone needs to be held accountable for the massacre and the National Security Adviser (Bruce Greenwood) wants Childers “crucified” for the incident.  Thus, a trial begins.

Childers calls on Hodges to defend him whilst young gun Major Mark Biggs (Pearce) is the prosecutor who’s out to make a name for himself.  The key issue of the trial is whether those fired upon were armed and with little evidence to support his “yes” argument, things do not bode well for Colonel Childers.

Rules Of Engagement is an attracting thriller boasting one of the best casts of the year.  Tommy Lee Jones (The Client) and Samuel L. Jackson (A Time To Kill) are no stranger to courtroom dramas and each seem to love the roles they have been given.  Guy Pearce’s American accent needs some work but its great to see Australian representation.

Not all the pieces fit but it’s enjoyable to watch a film where there’s doubt as to how things will unfold.  In most films, we see a pivotal scene that reveals all but not so in Rules Of Engagement.  The leading piece of evidence is a videotape from a security camera atop the embassy which cannot be located.  Conventional wisdom suggests that the tape will be found 10 minutes from film’s end and they’ll all live happily ever after.  Not so.

Most political/legal dramas are glossed up and this is no exception.  A particular downer is the way the National Security Adviser and the Ambassador attempt to conceal evidence - it didn’t make sense as to why they did it and why they we’re so obvious when doing it.

Regardless, it’s a potent film.  The opening half-hour features some fierce war scenes that rival the standards set by Saving Private Ryan.  Whilst not a true story, it has a lot to say about the military and corruption - attracting topics in most anyone’s book.