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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.

"Even if you don't agree with director William Friedkin that this is the best, most important film he's ever made, Rules Of Engagement is worth investigating on DVD. A mix of courtroom drama, buddy film and war actioner, Rules Of Engagement has plenty of interesting ingredients.

The story revolves around the friendship of Col. Hayes Hodges (Tommy Lee Jones) and Col Terry L. Childers (Samuel L. Jackson). 30 years ago in the heat of combat in Vietnam Jackson saved the wounded Hayes' life. Hayes, a miltary lawyer ever since, is about to retire when Childers is charged with firing on unarmed civilians during a rescue operation at the US embassy in Yemen. Childers calls on his none-too confident buddy to defend him and the truth is unravelled in a series of flashbacks told from the viewpoints of the witnesses.

While the set-up is intriguing and the Rashomon-like flashbacks effectively deployed, Rules Of Engagement doesn't quite make the impact it strives for because it doesn't pursue the real political and military villains with the vigour it should. What is vigorous is Friedkin's disarmingly frank commentary track. It's refreshing to hear the veteran helmer of 70's classics The Exorcist and The French Connection (and latter day turkeys like Jade) admitting his mistakes and inviting his audience to disagree with his interpretations.

I'd disagree with the importance he places on this ultimately conservative drama that works well in patches but doesn't quite fulfil its potential as a critique on the machinations linked to American foreign policy. Technically the film is polished with Friedkin showing he can still stage action scenes as well as anyone. Performances are solid all round even if it's hard to suspend disbelief when we see craggy-faced Jones in the opening Vietnam flashback sequence. Guy Pearce has the most interesting character and turns in fine work as the ambitious prosecution attorney who still has enough honour to play it by the book. Even if you're usually bored by male bonding and military procedure there's enough here to warrant a look and Friedkin's commentary alone makes the rental worthwhile."
Richard Kuipers

Published March 15, 2001

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CAST: Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L Jackson, Guy Pearce, Anne Archer

DIRECTOR: William Friedkin

RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes


DVD RELEASE: February 20, 2001

Director’s Commentary

A Look Inside (Cast and Crew Interviews)

Behind the Rules of Engagement – Featurette

Theatrical Trailer, Biographies – Cast and Director

Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, Dolby 2.0 Surround, Scene Access,

Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired

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