Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Sunday July 12, 2020 


While serving together in Vietnam, Col. Terry Childers (Samuel L. Jackson) takes extreme action to save the life of wounded Marine Col. Hays Hodges (Tommy Lee Jones). Some 28 years later, Childers needs the favour returned when he's charged with the murder of 83 civilian demonstrators outside the US Embassy in Yemen, where he's sent to evacuate the staff being threatened by a mob that's increasingly agitated. It is the National Security Advisor (Bruce Greenwood) who drives the case (and tampers with evidence) to make Childers the fall guy, taking the blame and the heat away from the US Government itself. While Hodges knows he's not the best lawyer in the world, he can't refuse Childers' request.

"Rules of Engagement is a gripping, powerful film that draws us not only into the battlefields of war, but into the equally disturbing battlefields of life, where honour, loyalty and truth are the best weapons. A stirring mix of war film, courtroom drama and buddy movie, set against a backdrop of dirty politics in the military and religion-inspired terrorism, it delivers plenty of action, colour and enough emotional involvement to keep you riveted. The futility and chaos of war is potently portrayed: its chilling close up images are haunting. We feel as though we are there, and it's not a pretty sight. But these opening scenes are pivotal to the plot, as we need to understand the context as well as the nuances of the events. Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson are a commanding twosome, and there's genuine movie magic at work on screen. It is a credit to both actors and director William Friedkin that we care so deeply for these characters, despite the fact that the screenplay gives no information about their lives, other than what we see on screen. Guy Pearce stands tall as the tough, but fair prosecutor, whose lip curls with a sardonic sneer. It's a role that sits comfortably after LA Confidential, and suits him far better than his work in the flawed Ravenous. I would have liked the script to address a couple of unresolved issues such as the expected confrontation in court of Ben Kingsley & Anne Archer's characters but these, like a few other important details, are left hanging. Potent and satisfying, Rules of Engagement has a big impact with its big stars, big issues and examination of morality. It grabs your heart and doesn't let it go until the credits roll."
Louise Keller

"A punchy blend of buddy movie, war heroics, courtroom drama and crime thriller, Rules of Engagement is the perfectly honed fighting machine that Hollywood unleashes on the world's cinematic competition so effectively. It is full of engaging human drama, striking action, moral resonance and a quest for nobility of spirit amidst the refuse of real life. It is also buoyed by American patriotism, even though some of this is allowed to be tainted by the cold blooded realpolitiking of a powerful political appointee. All the performances are high calibre, and even though some of the characterisations are a bit simplistic, they work in the context. The film's moral quest - to exonerate a brilliant, decorated career soldier when he is charged with murder on a daring mission in Yemen - is played out with heavy stakes, in black and white: we are left in no doubt about the morality of his actions, with the Middle East terrorist setting ensuring where Western sympathies should lie. The political and diplomatic imperatives provide the motive for the big brass to try and discredit the soldier. In all of this, though, the heroics and nobility of the marines is laid on so heavily it is hard to suppress the notion that the film is a giant commercial for America's marvelous military. All the same, it's a darned good one."
Andrew L. Urban

Email this article

HEAR Andrew L. Urban & Louise Keller talk about the film in Real Audio.

Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0




CAST: Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson, Guy Pearce, Bruce Greenwood, Ben Kingsley, Blair Underwood, Anne Archer, Mark Feuerstein

DIRECTOR: William Friedkin

PRODUCER: Scott Rudin, Richard D. Zanuck

SCRIPT: Stephen Gaghan, James Webb

CINEMATOGRAPHER: William A. Fraker, Nicola Pecorini, Dariusz Wolski

EDITOR: Augie Hess

MUSIC: Mark Isham


RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes



Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020