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Overall Rating

Awesome: 8.33%
Worth A Look: 23.33%
Pretty Bad: 8.33%
Total Crap: 5%

5 reviews, 30 user ratings

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Rules of Engagement
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by Erik Childress

"A Single Sequence (And Issue) Carries You Through"
4 stars

The marketing people at Paramount seemed to be up to their old tricks. Actually better described as giving away all their tricks. The last collaboration between Paramount and Tommy Lee Jones resulted in Double Jeopardy, one of last year's dumbest and worst films, not the least of its problems was the decision by the ad people to give away every major twist and turn so the only thing left to see were the credits. The ads for Rules of Engagement seem to suffer from the same sin, revealing crucial moments of a hidden videotape and a courtroom showdown with the man who covered it up. But just as William Friedkin's latest effort seems to offer nothing new to the courtroom drama, a different issue sneaks up on you and carries you through all the cliches.

Terry Childers (Samuel L. Jackson) and Hays Hodges (Tommy Lee Jones) have been friends since surviving Vietnam together. Cut to present day when Hodges, living out his career as a below-average military lawyer after being wounded in battle, is about to retire. Childers, in the meantime, is assigned to bail out an American Ambassador in the country of Yemen. It's never quite clear why there is such an uprising in the first place, but it leads to the film's most crucial and stunning sequence. The Marines chopper into the hot area where men, women, children and rooftop snipers all shoot bullets, throw rocks or firebombs at the embassy. Childers and his men, taking fire, manage to get the ambassador and his family out, but the heavy fire continues. We watch in agony as our Marines take hit after hit, some of them not surviving. We feel exactly how Childers feels (which Jackson pulls off using only his eyes) when he's had all he can stand and can't stand no more as he opens fire. This singular moment may be the only time in a motion picture when we approve of the slaughter of 83 anonymous people. But were they innocent victims?
This is the query at the heart of the trial. Did Childers give proper warning to the crowd before mowing them down - or does that really matter when the men under your command are being cut down? This leads to the questions of sanity and motives behind Jackson's character and the requisite courtroom showdowns and entrapments about missing evidence and outbursts nearly identical to the vengeful father Jackson played in A Time to Kill. But what Friedkin does so skillfully is almost trick you, the way a lawyer does, into feeling sorrow for the victims of the Yemen massacre only to pull the rug out from you back into reality after we see a different perspective of the "innocent" crowd.
Rules of Engagement is far from a perfect film. There's much to like and just as much to make you wince. It avoids the standard formula of many courtroom dramas by showing us the events chronologically instead of starting with the trial and flashback the events in question afterwards. Tommy Lee ("Where are those tapes?") Jones and Samuel L. (WASTE THE #@%*$!) Jackson both do terrific work here as the reluctant, alcoholic lawyer and the accused war hero. Ben Kingsley seems to get cut short as the rescued Ambassador and Bruce Greenwood gets to play T.L. Jones' nemesis again (as he just did in Double Jeopardy) as the cardboard politician. I never understood why his NSA character had to be so villainous other than the fact that the screenwriter felt there needed to be such a villain in the first place. If a videotape exists showing that Childers was right in his execution, then why should he worry what the Yemenese government thinks? If they question Childers' actions, he could make them copies and send it to them with a picture of a giant middle finger.

The snappy dialogue of A Few Good Men isn't here, nor does it fully follow through with the kind of military Catch-22 that was successfully argued films like that or even The Caine Mutiny. What it does accomplish is show that not all victims are innocent and offers a sympathetic view to the men we train to be killers, whom we should stop crucifying when their actions in the battlefield are justified. So what's left to see? More than you might expect.

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originally posted: 04/12/00 04:14:03
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User Comments

11/26/09 Jeff Wilder Well shot (Friedkin's a master). But sidesteps questions and ending cops out, 3 stars
1/27/07 action movie fan powerful and thoughtful great all around as friedkin always is best film 0f 2000 5 stars
2/03/05 Dan Sweet shit man! 5 stars
4/15/04 J A Cool WAR Movie! 4 stars
3/25/04 john Friedkin's treatment of the subject matter is superb - so is the action- still a bit dull 4 stars
3/06/04 Jaco Visser Bad taste! If that's how American youth look, I'm glad I'm in Africa! 1 stars
5/09/03 mr. Pink Confusing and uninteresting. Even the actors seem to think this. 1 stars
3/25/03 Jack Sommersby First-rate action scenes can't compensate for the banal courtroom ones. 2 stars
6/06/02 I'm in (L) with a Jedi FUCK THIS MOVIE AND EVERYONE HOO WAS INVOLVED WITH IT!!! 1 stars
10/31/00 Monday Morning Not much new ground covered & some obvious plot holes, but very entertaining. 4 stars
9/08/00 Richard Wright Well-acted and thought provoking: one of the more intelligent movies this summer. 4 stars
8/31/00 Pascal Most importantly i found it poses tough, interesting questions to consider 4 stars
8/21/00 Belinda Another good courtroom drama 4 stars
5/27/00 Jaime N. Christley Very familiar stuff, and not a total success, but plenty of things make it worth seeing. 3 stars
5/16/00 Donna well worth seeing 4 stars
4/25/00 Bueller The loose ends in the story fail to support the tremendous talents of Jackson & Jones. 3 stars
4/22/00 PhilmPhreak More holes than the front of the embassy. It was so dumb, I felt insulted. 2 stars
4/21/00 Freyja Patriotic garbage. The most unsympathetic good guy since, well, ever. 2 stars
4/20/00 Maclay01 You can see the influence "Saving Private Ryan" has had on war movies. The war scenes feel 3 stars
4/17/00 Steve Good action scenes but serious plot holes and retread courtroom story... 3 stars
4/16/00 Captain Highcrime Do ALL military courtroom pictures follow the same tired formula? 3 stars
4/12/00 TimmyToday Boring. At least Samuel L. Jackson was in it. 3 stars
4/12/00 Xalt Something subtly wrong with this one. Not sure what but it bugs me. 3 stars
4/11/00 Matt McClanahan ( Did I see the same movie? I was somewhat disappointed in RoE. 2 stars
4/10/00 Tony D'Amoto I've seen this movie before 2 stars
4/10/00 Louis ... 3 stars
4/09/00 Gavin Moore A must see, the first 45 minutes are really intense 5 stars
4/08/00 Dirty Dave Capone really good movie, a must see if you've been in the CORPS 5 stars
3/19/00 Adam Really enjoyed even the work print of this.Hope nothing changes for the theatrical release. 4 stars
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Directed by
  William Friedkin

Written by
  James Webb

  Tommy Lee Jones
  Samuel L. Jackson
  Anne Archer
  Guy Pearce

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