Rules of Engagement
|Samuel L. Jackson||Terry Childers|
|Tommy Lee Jones||Hayes Hodges|
|Philip Baker Hall|
|Directed by||William Friedkin|
Back in the '70s, when Vietnam was raging and the Young Turks were blazing a rebellious trail through Hollywood, a tyro auteur like William Friedkin, with the mantle of European artistic sensibility draped stylishly across his shoulders, would have cast a cold eye on a job of work like "Rules of Engagement". That was then, this is now.
Still, a lot of this movie is pretty engaging, if you close your eyes to a smattering of logic-stretchers and wince-makers. Two Marine colonels, Hayes Hodges (Tommy Lee Jones) and Terry Childers (Samuel L. Jackson), have been buddies since Vietnam, when Childers saved Hodges's life. Hodges sustained the leg wound that put him behind a lawyer's desk for the rest of his Marine career while Childers went on distinguishing himself in combat in the world's trouble zones.
Then comes Yemen. A protest outside the American embassy turns ugly (we never quite know what it's about). Childers evacuates the American ambassador (Ben Kingsley) and then, under withering attack and with marines dropping like flies, orders his men to fire on the crowd. 83 are killed, including a lot of women and children. No weapons are found among the dead, and a surveillance tape goes missing.
Childers finds himself facing a court-martial. Of course he turns to his old buddy, who of course is retiring, and doesn't want the responsibility ("I'm a good enough lawyer to know you need a better lawyer than me"). What "Rules" would like to be about, and sometimes rises to, is a moral ambiguity in which the boundaries between duty and excess, defensible reaction and overkill, Guadalcanal and My Lai, good and evil, are blurred. The courtroom stuff is good, although the promised mismatch between the self-described plodder Hodges and the brilliant prosecutor (Guy Pearce) never materializes - Hodges holds his own nicely. But the story is generously ventillated with holes, and characters do things that simply make no sense, and Friedkin grabs at cliches like a contestant asking Regis for a lifeline.
It is revealed that politicians are slimy and unprincipled, that men at arms forge special bonds (even if they're on opposing sides), and that, as Pearce points out, that "whether a man is charged with murder or hailed as a hero is sometimes a very thin line.."
The acting is of the high quality you'd expect from a cast that includes Jones and Jackson and Kingsley and Anne Archer. Pearce tries on a Bronx accent, and wears it well. Bruce Greenwood's villainy is overdone, but the fault is with the filmmaker. Whether a man is hailed as a great director or pilloried as a hack is sometimes a very thin line. And sometimes not so thin.
© Text 2000 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be
© Pictures 2000 Paramount Pictures