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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 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.
*** 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 review may contain spoilers ***
Film opens with US marines in an embassy surrounded by aggressive
protesters, trying to rescue diplomatic staff in a random Arabian
country (Yemen). Marines are entrenched on the roof while crowd is
raging beyond, targeted by some sporadic fire. Till now, nothing wrong.
Certainly a quite realistic situation: getting out diplomatic staff in
dangerous areas is not always a peaceful job, particularly when
surrounded by hostile population often manipulated by propaganda.
Period. So marines are caught under fire, in uncomfortable position.
Colonel played by S.L.Jackson is doing his best to have situation run
smoothly. He asks soldiers to wave down the US flag. In the process
about 3 marines get shot (some wounded, some dead, can't remember
exactly) by some snipers we can't locate in the whole turmoil. That's
some kind of war, and not exactly a clean one. Period.
Then the madness thing begin: Jackson's character orders soldiers to... WIPE OUT THE CROWD!!!! WOMEN AND CHILDS!!! Not firing warning shots, not push them back: firing rifles and machine-guns on full auto mode ON THE CROWD!!!
Could hardly believe it. From that point, I was thinking of the film being about a good soldier, with morals, being doomed for having made wrong choice in a situation he simply lost control. Explaining that soldiers often are in situation they have to take crucial decisions in critical situation, while being, in the end, only human beings and so committing mistakes. A kind of tragedy in Greek sense.
No way. The rest of the film will be about the colonel being a true hero, and will even try to convince us that he was right when giving the orders for that slaughter. So the trial begins. Can't say it's objective. First Jackson's character is a former Vietnam hero, and he's a good guy as he saved TL Jones' character there, another Vietnam veteran who will be his lawyer. On the other hand, opposing military attorney is a young aggressive, ambitious white collar without any battle experience. Too smart to be trusted. All the people prosecuting Jackson are depicted as cowards, and dishonest persons whose only objective is making Jackson a scapegoat (while gov has actually nothing to do with col's decision as he never got any order from above). Government agents even hide evidences that may give credit to Jackson. There I need some explanation: why would government make disappear some evidences that their soldiers acted in the right way, yeah why?
Anyway after some dull trial movie bits, incredible story holes and laughable pieces of speech, Jackson will receive absolution from a retired Vietnamese general (which in the same run solves all those pesky problems of guilt about Vietnam, thanks). Jury will buy it immediately and Jackson will be immediately freed without any serious charges and remorse.
Actually director will even let us think that col was right, implying that some people in the crowd were certainly armed. Looks like he managed to refrain adding something like: "and anyway, if they had had weapons, they surely would have used them against our soldiers so that's the same".
Lesson from this movie: an American hero's honor worths more than 83 anonymous arabian lives. Thanks but we already knew that, just watch news.
Years have past since Col Hodges and Col Childers were comrades in combat.
Hodges is now retired while Childers is still on active service in the
Middle East. When he is called in to help protect and evacuate the US
Embassy in the middle of a riot, Childers orders his men to return fire
despite not having any definite targets. With a crowd of 80 dead, many
women and children, the authorities are forced to go after Childers to have
someone to blame. Childers turns to his old friend to help defend
With a pair of real heavyweights in lead roles I was quite looking forward to this film. It is quite easy to get into the film as the opening 40 minutes are pretty exciting and shocking in equal measure it forces you to think where you stand on the action taken by Childers in both past and present. However as the film goes on the moral debate becomes simplified and it is clear where we are being steered, as opposed to being allowed to think things out for ourselves. The `debate' or thoughtful side is lost and we are left with the courtroom drama side of things.
I'm not a big fan of courtroom thrillers as they often rely on unlikely twists at the end and lots of shouting in place of substance. However I do enjoy the odd one if it hangs together and has energy. However, the courtroom scenes here never really get off the ground and surprisingly (given the emotive subject) really lack energy and twists. Even the conclusion of the film is a real damp squid, the verdict is simply delivered, so if you're expecting twists and turns and big revelations forget it. Inexplicably, the film puts up two or three captions over the final shot to tell us more information for some of these the film would have been much more exciting if it had worked these into the final 20 minutes of the film. To have them as flat words on a screen is pointless (especially since this isn't a true story!).
Jones and Jackson both do good work, as you'd expect for a pair of tough nuts such as they. Jackson has the better character (until the script weakens itself). Pearce is OK in support but the script doesn't give him too much to work with, his side of the case is easy of course, so the film stops him overpowering the court case at the same time as it simplifies it's stance. Support from faces such as Kingsley, Archer, Greenwood and Underwood is OK but in some cases are so brief to be cameos.
Overall this starts well, but it fairs to really involve once the moral debate side of the film is simplified and phased out. The question `what would you do' is rendered null and void with each flashback Jackson has. The courtroom scenes barely fizzle let alone ignite the screen and the film putters to a poor ending that is badly done. Worth seeing with good performances from the leads but still a pretty big disappointment.
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.
Let's take those points in turn.
(1) Okay, killing 83 civilians and injuring 100 more is something that can happen to anyone; what's amazing is that Terry Childers feels neither remorse nor regret. He's surprised that he's even being tried. (He's not, it must be said, the brightest of men.) His defence? When he deigns to justify his actions to people who haven't themselves killed anyone, all he can say - although he says it with an amazing tone of wounded moral outrage - is, "They killed ... THREE ... MARINES!" Oh, well, in THAT case ... I mean, it's not as if the 83 Yemenites were MARINES. (By the way, I wish the Americans would drop that ridiculous word, "marine". It makes it sound as of some of their soldiers have gills.) It's obvious that the film shares Childers's attitude.
(2) And yet, and yet ... Friedkin doesn't hesitate to give us lingering shots of all the dead and wounded civilians. What is he saying? "Yes, this is tragic, but..." But what? He doesn't have anything to say after the "but". It's as if he thinks he can show the people of Yemen respect by offering them screen time - the more screen time, the more respect. -And another thing: if Friedkin has any idea what he thinks the trial was ABOUT, I wish he'd let us know. Does he think that Childers is technically innocent on all three charges? I'm glad someone is in a position to tell; we're certainly not, since we never find out in enough detail what the legal issues are (what kind of conduct IS "conduct unbecoming a marine"?), and anyway, this is one of those grandstanding trials in which neither side makes a coherent case, or wants to.
(3) Do we care what happened 28 years earlier in Vietnam? Do we have reason to care? Of course not. This lengthy prologue is there simply to make the film seem twice as ridiculous (Tommy Lee Jones looks, if anything, older in 1968 than in 1996; the statement "If you call off your men, you can go free; you have my word. If you don't, I swear I'll kill you where you stand!" gets translated into just five syllables of Vietnamese), and to give characters "a past", as if any old past will do. The trial begins at precisely the wrong time: just when our exhaustion with all the setting-up has led us to believe that the end of the film can't be far off, but early enough so that it feels in retrospect as if the film is all trial. It would be better if it really were.
(4) As for "blatantly manipulative", where do I begin? With the soundtrack? You know the kind - muted snare drums, more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger solo trumpets ...it never varies from one piece of American military sentimentalism to the next. (This particular score is due to Mark Isham, but I can't blame him. I'm sure he had no choice.) Or how about the ambassador, who we see snapping petulantly into the phone, hiding under the table, and - gasp! - forgetting to take the American flag with him when he leaves. Gee, I wonder if he'll turn out to be a coward? And what about his son, who steals screen time solely in order to look up with his big puppydog eyes and ask some, faux naïve, mummy-why-are-those-people-shouting-at-us questions? Then there's the trial, with a charm-laden Tommy Lee Jones defending and some bug-eyed weevil prosecuting.... How much more effective this trial would have been if the prosecutor had had, at the very least, silkiness - if he hadn't been someone who could be counted upon to lose the case simply by rubbing the jury the wrong way. Bah.
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