Rules of Engagement


Head to head: Col Hodges (Jones) defends an old friend against aggressive young prosecutor Maj Biggs (Pearce).
dir William Friedkin scr Stephen Gaghan
with Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L Jackson, Guy Pearce, Bruce Greenwood, Anne Archer, Ben Kingsley, Philip Baker Hall, Blair Underwood, Nicky Katt, Amidou, Dale Dye, Mark Feurstein
Paramount 00/US 2 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
It's surprising that a (mostly) serious filmmaker like Friedkin directed this pedestrian military courtroom drama. Sure, Rules of Engagement has a couple of powerhouse actors chewing up the scenery, plus some intriguing themes about power and military force. But the script is so relentlessly shallow and flimsy that it simply falls to bits after the tiniest amount of scrutiny.

The story centres on a Marine court case in which Col Childers (Jackson) is charged with mass murder after a rescue operation in Yemen goes horribly wrong. He hires his old buddy (Jones) to defend him against a hot young prosecutor (Pearce, with a dodgy New Yawk accent) and a slimy government bigwig (Greenwood) who wants Childers to take the fall so the United States of America doesn't have to.

Firstly, this film would have been immeasurably more interesting if the screenwriter hadn't felt the need to include a bad guy. The moral complexities involved are fairly intriguing, and Jackson and Jones are well up to the challenge (as always) of making this more than just another courtroom drama. Yet the story has no internal logic; on second thought every plot point crumbles into dust ... and the film never actually addresses its central theme, abuse of power. That said, this is efficient, watchable filmmaking. There are a few nicely handled scenes, and just enough interest to keep us from getting bored. But avoid the temptation to engage your brain cells.

[15--themes, language, violence] 17.Apr.00
US release 31.Mar.00; UK release 26.May.00

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

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