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Last week, as I considered ordering this DVD, I checked the IMDB rating and saw a "fair" 6.5. Since I like Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson, I placed the order. Like most roller coasters, I found it to be a good ride and Jones and Jackson did very credible jobs. The flaws in the movie have been correctly pointed out by numerous other reviewers. I was somewhat surprised that some of the most critical reviews were by US viewers. I fully understand how non-US citizens would be irritated by the stereotypes. I found it to be a very exciting movie from my particular perspective (US citizen, military family, male over 45). The scenes of combat when the marines are ordered to the US embassy in Yemen to safeguard our state department personnel were VERY well done, even to the point of gripping. The court scenes and conflicts of evidence or lack of evidence were interesting to me and I also understood, but did not agree with, the aims of the State Department. I don't think some of the reviewers are aware of what a person might do in such an extremely stressful situation as that of Colonel Childers (Jackson). It was fascinating to me to see what he did do and how he and others looked back on it. I would have given Rules of Engagement a 9 or 10, but for the flaws. It's a good movie though and well worth renting. It's an 8.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While this film has some good moments and strong performances from Samuel Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones (and a disappointing one from Ben Kingsley), I couldn't help but remember the "Chewbacca Defence" from South Park while watching the courtroom scenes: "This makes no sense!".
A marine colonel claims he gave the order to fire on a crowd, killing 83 people and wounding more than 100, ALL of whom were supposedly firing at his people with sub-machine guns and pistols - yet NOBODY else saw these weapons, not even the other marines who were returning fire (except, possibly, the three who died). Supposedly, none of them saw the weapons even AFTER the crowd was mown down.
The Yemenis then supposedly came in and removed every weapon, every spent cartridge, and - and this is REALLY ridiculous - every bullet and bullet-hole (the defence lawyer is told that all the shots came from snipers with rifles, and photographs a few bullet holes, but finds nothing to contradict this, throwing grave doubt on the colonel's judgement that the crowd was more dangerous than the snipers).
A videotape (destroyed by the National Security Advisor) shows the crowd shooting, but not one slug from any of those weapons is ever discovered. Were they all firing blanks? And why would the NSA and the ambassador (whose life was saved by the colonel) rather see a war hero executed than an aging ambassador lose his job and the Yemeni government embarrassed? (Maybe if it was Saudi Arabia, or Iraq in the 1980s, but Yemen?)
The court-martial then decides to believe that a videotape that they haven't seen, the existence of which can not be proven, vindicates their officer. Despite the glaring lack of any evidence to support his story and a mass that contradicts it, they acquit him. To believe this, you have to believe that the military will believe EVERYTHING they're told by one of their own, or protect them from the consequences even if they don't. The NSA and the ambassador are then blamed (okay, that's believeable if there was a change of government in between. They're political appointees, after all).
If this had been told RASHOMON style, without us seeing the videotape (or if the tape had been inconclusive), we could choose who to believe. Or if Jones's character had uncovered ANY evidence that supported the colonel's story or contradicted the official version, rather than making it a matter of faith. Instead, it's impossible to believe the film at all.
Headed by two unnerving performances, this film takes us on a journey
through the gray area that is our military morality today. We live in a
society insulated from realistic depictions of war. We get censored CNN
FOX news. We rarely get anything insightful, so it is a pleasure to have
HOLLYWOOD offer up one of the most moving anti-military films in the past
ten years. While the courtroom drama is by all means standard, the most
unique attention is paid to the changing perception of TLJ's character.
his journy to defend, he comes to an all too real understanding of a
whose leaders have no problem sending our boys to die, yet they themselves
are either ignorant of the reality, or to politically motivated to be
by it. In conclusion, this is an alienating film because it presents an
alien culture that lives by its own moral code. That alien culture isn't
middle eastern... it is our own military.
One more point; Watching this film post 911 gives it an all too creepy reality.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
SPOILERS COMING UP: DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW IF YOU'RE INTENDING TO SEE THIS
New to UK satellite television's Box Office pay-to-view channel, this movie comes with a cautionary warning from the channel that 'in view of recent events', viewers may find 'certain scenes upsetting'. Well yes. Almost all of 'em, in fact. But they're upsetting less on account of any contemporary resonance that might echo in the wake of 9/11 -- truth to tell, there isn't any such resonance, anyway -- and rather more because of the realisation that one has coughed up £3 25p in order to view a movie with so little idea of the rules of engagement where audiences are concerned that writer and director ought to get back (or possibly,enroll) in the nearest neighbourhood film school as soon as possible.
The plot is downright daft, the characterisation awful, and the script, dire. Jackson's military hero is self evidently anything but, and Jones's about-to-retire-in-two-weeks-lawyer straight from a cupboard in central casting (the shelf below the about-to-retire-in-two-weeks detective).
For Jones in particular, the about-to-retire bit is inadvertently cruel: in the preliminary 1968 flashback shot he already looks as though he was born with the century, his noble visage defeating all of Friedkin's technical wizardry -- i.e., getting the actor to wear an oversize hat to cover most of his face -- to assert otherwise.
When it isn't daft, it's risible: a couple of weeks after being machine-gunned and having one of her legs amputated, the six-year-old victim is out of hospital and miraculously adept with her crutches (whilst other victims of the same blood bath still lay in their hospital beds with the same bullet holes and blood stains).
An evil National Security Adviser (well yes, he would have to be evil, wouldn't he?) steals a video tape that wouldn't have excused Jackson's behaviour anyway, even though the film plainly thinks so.
Lawyer and hero have a Wayne/McGaglan-style fight after the lawyer realises how indefensible his client truly is, and then having rolled around smashing each other up and the studio set, bond together in macho male laughter. Appealing? Right. Nothing like having a laugh with a mass murderer to cement an audience's sympathy.
And so it goes on: incredbility piled on incredibility, the film with neither a moral core nor even a moral fix on its cardboard characters.
Someone, somewhere though, evidently thought audiences would be engaged by this dross and leave their brains behind: an excruciatingly awful end credit sequence actually has the temerity to chronicle the post-film fate of the movie's characters -- National Security adviser arrested, Ambassador arrested, military hero acquitted of all charges --as if for one moment anyone could ever believe them to approximate to real people.
Unfortunately, the only reality of Rules of Engagement is its utter awfulness. Amidst so much gunfire and blood letting, the loudest sound is of Friedkin shooting himself in the foot.
This is a military court martial movie with a few similarities to A Few Good
Men. It did not have as much suspense, but overall it was still quite good.
I thought the situation in Yemen made it very applicable to current day
problems in Arab-American relations. The movie was released before the USS
Cole attack, which reinforces the possibility of the event in question in
the court-martial. I don't think the massacre that occurred would have been
quite so bloody in a real world situation though.
The performances of Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson and Guy Pearce were very good. Probably no Oscars here, but well worth watching.
What a mess. Sleepwalking performances by two otherwise very fine actors (Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson), impossible plot holes, the use of every military and courtroom cliche imaginable, an awful script, and a continual need to suspend the viewer's disbelief. It's hard to believe such a good cast (including Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Bruce Greenwood, Ann Archer) give performances that are either sad or so brief you wonder if they left much of this film on the cutting room floor. Not that it would have mattered--very little could have saved this disaster.
This story gets the viewer involved with it right away never lets up,
with good performances all around, although Tommy Lee Jones stands out
a bit above the rest.
There are some outstanding action scenes in the first 30 minutes and if you have a 5.1surround system, it gets quite a workout. After that, the story settles down into a court battle.
Its politics are typical Hollywood: the government is corrupt with the main villain the National Security Adviser who burns a video tape that would clear a U.S. Marine colonel from being framed for murder. That colonel also is a black man which makes the story even more politically correct. Samuel J. Jackson plays that role, a Col. "Terrry Childers." Jones plays his attorney, "Col. Hayes Hodges." The two veteran actors play off each other very well.
It gets even more dramatic when two other witnesses lie and make justice look almost impossible to attain in the case. But, dramatics aside, it's a good story and certainly an entertaining one. Once again, William Friedkin has directed a good movie.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The first time I saw this movie, I loved it. But at a second viewing, I
realized with dismay that there was a major discrepancy in it that
invalidated the entire point of the film. Almost every movie has a goof
or an inconsistency, and while that annoys me sometimes it usually
doesn't take away from the overall value of the film: Silence of the
Lambs, a great movie, has no fewer than four major inconsistent or
contradictory moments in it. The problem with this movie is that the
contradiction goes to the very essence of the movie's theme. Briefly,
the plot goes thusly: Samuel Jackson is in charge of a unit of Marines
which is sent to an unspecified US embassy to protect it from
increasingly hostile mobs. At some point, the mob becomes violent and,
more, begins attacking the embassy. Jackson spirits out the ambassador
and his wife, along with other staff, and then defends the embassy.
Finally, he gives the order to fire into the crowd that is stoning and
shooting at the building, and the unit does so with devastating
results. When the smoke clears, dozens lie dead and many more wounded,
including many women and children, and not a weapon is in sight. The
resulting furor and outrage leads to a court-martial for Jackson. The
central thesis of the film is that Jackson and Jackson alone saw the
weapons. For reasons which are explained but are not totally
convincing, a State Department employee destroys the surveillance tape
from the embassy which clearly shows the weapons being fired by the
mob. The rest of the movie describes how Jackson is defended by Tommy
Lee Jones, who undertakes his own investigation.
This whole thesis falls apart, however, when you watch the scene where the Marines begin firing into the crowd. There are two impossibilities here that Friedkin (the director) asks us to swallow: 1, that an entire platoon of Marines --roughly thirty men-- rise up over the wall, aim their weapons and fire for ten to fifteen seconds --and not a single one of them sees a weapon. Impossible. Even less possible: 2, after the firing stops, all the weapons that were in the crowd (and shown on the surveillance tape) disappear --just like that! Where did they go? Thirty marines are standing on a rooftop not fifty feet away from the square, looking down at it, and all those weapons are taken away without them (or the tape) seeing it. Absolutely impossible.
If this were a minor (or even major) discrepancy, but had no relation to the rest of the action, then I wouldn't even comment on it. But the entire movie rests on the idea that only Jackson saw what he did --and that is a flat impossibility. For me, that ruined what would have otherwise been a fine film. That is very poor writing. Too bad.
"Rules of Engagement" from 2000 is a fairly derivative film. Directed
by William Friedkin, it's the story of two men, Colonel Terry Childers
(Samuel L. Jackson), a 30-year Marine veteran and decorated officer;
and Colonel Hayes Hodges (Tommy Lee Jones), now an attorney, a man with
whom he fought and whose life he saved in Vietnam and has retired.
Childers is sent on a rescue mission in Yemen that goes awry when the protesting crowd outside the embassy starts shooting at the Marines. Childers, who already has men down, orders his soldiers to fire into the crowd. He is able to evacuate the embassy but finds himself in trouble due to the fact that no one believes the protesters had weapons. He is put on trial and asks Hodges to defend him. Hodges doesn't feel he's a good enough attorney, but he agrees to take the case.
There is a tape of what happened, but the head of security (Bruce Greenwood) who doesn't want the United States to take the rap for killing civilians and would rather have it fall on a soldier, burns it. And Childers gets no support from the Ambassador (Ben Kingsley) or his wife (Anne Archer), and the attorney on the other side (Guy Pearce) is out for blood.
We've seen this film in various guises before, and the good versus evil is typical Hollywood. The acting is good but I have difficulty understanding the casting of Ben Kingsley, a great Oscar-winning actor, who is completely wasted in what is not even really a supporting role. Anne Archer plays his wife. The two have a small son and have been married for ten years. May I suggest that though it's entirely feasible that Archer at 43 had a child, the casting seems a little off. Often, when directors want a certain actor, the agency representing them agrees on the condition that the director take other people on his roster. I suspect this is what happened here; the casting is not quite right for these distinguished actors.
Tommy Lee Jones in particular is good as Hodges, though he has the showier role. Samuel Jackson is always very good and gives a strong performance as well, but there's something very stereotypical about both parts. Bruce Greenwood at least is interesting casting - he seems pretty mild-mannered as the Head of Security, but there's a treachery underneath.
All in all, this is an okay film, one where you know how it's going to end and basically what's going to happen while it's going on. We see two stars who have done their roles before in other circumstances. So in the end, while it has its moments, it's somewhat routine. One of those if you've seen one, you've seen them all type films.
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