Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Tommy Lee Jones
Two bloody battle sequences, one long fairly boring courtroom drama and lots of righteous indignation. That’s the extent of “Rules of Engagement”.
Samuel L. Jackson plays Colonel Terry Childers, a decorated marine who saved the life of Col. Hays Hodges (Tommy Lee Jones) back in Vietnam in 1968. Flash forward 28 years. Hodges is retiring after years of service at a marine desk job while Childers is still in the thick of military enterprise.
Childers is called upon to go to Middle Eastern hotspot, Yemen, to rescue a besieged American Ambassador (Ben Kingsley as Amb. Mourain and his wife played by Anne Archer). Demonstrators are stoning the embassy and it soon gets so ugly that snipers are firing on the building and the Marines who are attempting the rescue. After several of his men are killed, Childers orders return fire and the end result is 83 massacred old men, women and children and others are left injured. When an investigation ensues, no guns are found among the dead, but bloody pictures hit the press around the world. Facing a monumental diplomatic crisis over the incident, the United States, in the guise of National Security Adviser William Sokal (Bruce Greenwood), orders videotape evidence that would exonerate Childers to be withheld. In fact, Sokal goes so far as to destroy the tape so that Childers can become the ultimate scapegoat and the U.S. won’t have to answer to world condemnation. Childers, in turn, calls upon old friend Hodges to represent him as his lawyer, fully knowing that Hodges is less than up to the job.
Problem: “Rules of Engagement” is one major conflict but insufficient little ones to make this a far more interesting story. There could have been a good conflict between Sokal and his assistant over the destruction of the tape. There could have been good conflict between the Ambassador and his wife over his decision to lie on the witness stand against Childers. There are other problems too: no one ages in 28 years; what caused Hodges to be a such a failure? There is no backstory on these characters other than the Vietnam incident. And when Childers is about the go on trial, frankly, there is very little, if any, sympathy for him at this point.
Also featuring Guy Pearce as Maj. Biggs, the prosecutor and Blair Underwood as Captain Lee.
Lotta says: It could have been a far better story had the writers fleshed it out, particularly the secondary characters and their potential conflicts and even the conflicts inherent in “rules of engagement” in a wartime situation when decisions are made in split-second timing. But, no, they went for Jackson and Jones smacking each other around as they face their disappointments. It’s not good enough. I found this film disappointing all around.