Rules of Engagement (2000)    1 Stars

A hero should never have to stand alone.”

Rules of Engagement (2000)
Rules of Engagement (2000)


Director: William Friedkin

Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson, Guy Pearce

Synopsis: An attorney defends an officer on trial for ordering his troops to fire on civilians after they stormed a US embassy in a third world country.





The disappointing Rules of Engagement is a very average film that had the potential to be an outstanding one. The basic idea, exploring at what point humanitarian military intervention becomes mass murder, is an intriguing one, which could have made intelligent and compelling viewing if handled with the level of perception and understanding required of such a theme. Unfortunately, director William Friedkin tries to give us a movie that will satisfy both action fans and those seeking a more in-depth study of the psychological pressures of combat – and fails on both counts.

Tommy Lee Jones (JFK, The Family) displays a certain degree of sensitivity as a second-rate military lawyer plagued with self-doubt who is asked by his best friend to defend him against a charge of mass murder after ordering the shooting of demonstrating civilians in Yemen. However, Jones’ character is too weak and sketchily drawn to be believable, making Samuel L. Jackson’s (White Sands, The 51st State) character’s decision to request his help all the more unlikely.

The plot also lets down the movie’s basic premise, too often falling back on formulaic situation and character: Jones’ character, a reformed alcoholic, briefly falls off the wagon because of the pressures of the case before pulling himself together; he suffers a crisis of confidence in the truth of his friend’s evidence (which results in one of the most pointless movie fist-fights I have ever seen); he regains the respect of his father and son while overcoming his demons; the prosecution produce (shock, gasp) a surprise witness! And so it goes on.

Performances are as you would expect from an accomplished cast, although Guy Pearce (Traitor, In Her Skin) curiously elects to portray his prosecution lawyer as a cross between a young Frank Sinatra and a mouthy punk.

(Reviewed 22nd April 2002)

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