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A bright assistant D.A. investigates a gruesome hatchet murder and hides a clue he found at the crime scene. Under professional threats and an attempt on his life, he goes on heartbroken because evidence point to the woman he still loves.
Hayes Hodges finds his career aspirations dashed when he's wounded in Vietnam combat. He then returns to America and becomes a disillusioned lawyer who goes up against the service to defend Colonel Terry Childers, who is accused of inciting an incident that leaves many demonstrators dead. Hodges in no position to decline: Childers heroically saved his life back in Vietnam. Written by
James Webb provided the story for the film, based partly on his own military experience in Vietnam and his tenure as the Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan; in 2006, Webb was elected as Virginia's newest U.S. Senator. See more »
In the scene where Col. Childers is approaching the entry to the base where an angry crowd of protesters and reporters awaits him, his drivers side window is clearly closed. The next second he encounters the crowd the window is suddenly open, proven when one of the protesters spits on his uniform and he gets out of the car grabbing the protester by the collar and slamming him into the car. See more »
Colonel Terry L. Childers:
Yes they had weapons! You think there's a script for fighting a war without pissing somebody off? Follow the rules and nobody gets hurt? Yes, innocent people probably died. Innocent people always die but I did not exceed my orders.
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Rules of Engagement fits comfortably into that genre of military film in which the motivations inherant in the human character are subverted for the motivates of the The United States Marines. Assinine personal decisions can just be tossed off as being part of The Code. Unlike A Few Good Men, still the best of its kind, Rules of Engagement falls flat because even as none of the character actions make sense, nothing is surprising either, and that is the biggest sin of all.
This is all unfortunate, since Rules of Engagement was made by a lot of people who should know better. Or who at least once knew better. The recent rerelease of The Exorcist and a repeat viewing of The French Connection contrasted with this film can only lead viewer to a simple conclusion: At one point William Friedkin was a master of his craft, knowing how to tell a compelling story with a unique visual style. He can't do that anymore. It's shocking just how dull the early scenes in Vietnam and Yemen feel. There's no tension and at a certain point you just want the characters to move on. Friedkin isn't helped by the fact that usually reliable cinematographer William Fraker (a five-time Oscar nominee) has given the film a murky look, often mislighting actors, unless the purpose was to make everybody look bruised.
When all is said and done, only Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson are given fully developed characters. Even though they're often forced to say stupid things (Out of nowhere Jackson has an overly expositional insult about Jones's alcoholism, a problem that hadn't been mentioned previously and was never relevant afterwards), these actors are always reliable. The film's other interesting performance come from Guy Pearce, whose American accent is frequently preposterous, but unlike LA Confidential (where Pearce gave a fuller overall performance), the accent remains mostly consistant throughout.
The film's other actors are stranded without resolutions for their characters. Ben Kingsley and Anne Archer, as the weak Yemeni ambassador and his wife, are left stranded. Ditto Bruce Greenwood (so consistantly excellent as wounded heroes in Atom Egoyan films, and so badly wasted as one dimensional heavies in American movies), whose narrative arc involving a videotape is woefully without payoff.
In the end, Rules of the Game offers nothing new, and nothing surprising. The solid acting by the leads fits into this rubric of normality, but as does the absolute apathy the film produces.
I give it a 4/10.
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