Rules of Engagement (2000)
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These previous reviewers have no concept of the reality of combat:
A Flag is more important than Marine's life ? (This person should read about Francis Scott Key, Ft McHenry and those who died to keep the flag standing) http://www.historybuff.com/newsletter/july08.html
The ending was absurd! ("The Corps, the Corps, the Corps" - not understood by civilians.
Propaganda at its best (Closer to truth than you know..!!)
The performances of Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson and Guy Pearce were very good. Probably no Oscars here, but well worth watching.
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.
One more point; Watching this film post 911 gives it an all too creepy reality.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
With that said, the plot is not only believable, but portrayed accurately as we have seen over and over again from the savagery of sectarian extremists in Iraq. Friedkin was prescient.
The battle scenes are every bit as accurate as those of BLACKHAWK DOWN. The courtroom scenes are riveting. Every step of the way, the audience is led to a conclusion that to be an honorable Marine is to be a hopeless puppet of the government.
Even the ending (which we will not give away) forces you to understand the precariousness of the position of people under those with great power. This helplessness, I believe, is what gave most reviewers the uncomfortableness which directed their critiques. Yet it is the very theme of the movie: On an anagogical level, the highest level of allegory, it shouts Acton's Axiom of power and absolute power and the corruption it demands. And no matter which party is in power, the forces of that power make puppets of honor.
The movie has its flaws - the script leaves little for the presiding judge, who is a defacto voice of power, to say, although the editing makes up for it, keeping the courtroom scene ablaze with action.
The catharsis which wrings from the "uncomfortableness" of the film is paramount to its understanding. We feel better, knowing that rough justice has been served.
This shows the lack of backing that the government will sometimes give to the troops, or some military situations that tend to be to 'politically hairy', when the media takes over, bringing heat and starting to paint a picture about a story that is not fully accurate. That will get some people in harms way, fast and to some certain death! Samuel L Jackson(Childers) and Tommy Lee Jones' (Hayes Hodges) characters, are close friends. When Terry Childers approaches Hodges, with a crisis on his hands, it makes his friend that has 'chewed jungle' with Terry before, very uneasy and of of center. Hayes in his quest for answers takes a plane trip to the embassy and the surrounding city to investigate further, but ends up not liking what he is learning. Furthermore, Terry looks as if he has painted himself into a corner, by the story he has given to 'Hodge' and with Ambassador Mourain (Ben Kingsley) who Childers was coming to take out (rescue) from a fiery situation, is not any help at this point at all for Terry's defense. Guy Pierce plays an upcoming and hungry prosecutor, (Maj. Mark Biggs) who wants Jackson's character, to do nothing less than prison, for a middle eastern incident at an American base in Yemen. With Hodge getting upset and the upsetting turning to anger, things are starting to get done.
This is an excellent military drama that ranks with "A Few Good Men" only prefer this one, over, "Santiago had no code!" as far as an enveloping action drama story. Some will disagree, but this one doesn't let you down. Recommended highly!(****) Great direction, William Friedkin
(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.
"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."
I am not sure why it was given a "bad rap", but the courtroom scenes, especially with the prosecutor Guy Pearce, are some of the best I have seen depicted of a general court martial (I am an ex-JAG from the Navy). Moreover, the GCM result is also probable.
The NSA who hides evidence is VERY believable. Loved the flick - it's now a guilty pleasure. I recommend it as capturing a scenario which could happen in at embassy in a Muslim country.
As for production and direction, William Friedkin is a more than able director having won an Oscar for "The French Connection" and being nominated for another in "The Exorcist". The cast includes notables Oscar winner Ben Kingsley, Oscar nominated Anne Archer, and the ubiquitous warrior Dale Dye to go along with Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones and Oscar nominated Samuel L. Jackson. All in all, it was given "short shrift" perhaps because of politics. The story was more than exciting for the purpose.
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.