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Rules of Engagement (31-Mar-2000)

Director: William Friedkin

Writers: Stephen Gaghan; James Webb

Keywords: Drama, Courtroom

A soldier-turned-attorney defends a disgraced Colonel on trial for ordering his subordinates to fire on citizens of a third-world country.

Ambitious Marine Hayes Hodges' dreams of becoming an officer are dashed when he is seriously injured in Vietnam. Years later, Hodges, now a successful attorney, must put his skills to the test when he is asked to defend Terry Childers, a Colonel who'd once saved his life standing trial for ordering his troops to fire on foreign nationals storming an American embassy.

NameOccupationBirthDeathKnown for
Anne Archer
24-Aug-1947   Fatal Attraction
Thom Barry
6-Dec-1950   Will Jeffries on Cold Case
Gordon Clapp
24-Sep-1948   Det. Greg Medavoy on NYPD Blue
Dale Dye
8-Oct-1944   Warriors, Inc.
Mark Feuerstein
8-Jun-1971   Good Morning, Miami
David Graf
16-Apr-1950 7-Apr-2001 Movie, TV and videogame work
Bruce Greenwood
12-Aug-1956   Dr. Griffin on St. Elsewhere
Philip Baker Hall
10-Sep-1931   Magnolia
Ryan Hurst
19-Jun-1976   Remember the Titans
Samuel L. Jackson
21-Dec-1948   Pulp Fiction
Tommy Lee Jones
15-Sep-1946   Men in Black
Nicky Katt
11-May-1970   Harry Senate on Boston Public
Ben Kingsley
31-Dec-1943   Gandhi
G. Gordon Liddy
30-Nov-1930   Watergate criminal, talk-show-host
Guy Pearce
5-Oct-1967   Memento, L.A. Confidential
Blair Underwood
25-Aug-1964   Malibu's Most Wanted


Review by Walter Frith (posted on 7-Jun-2007)

I had an acquaintance who aspired to be a film maker. He had worked on a number of low budget Hollywood productions as an associate film editor and as an extra in others. He went to film school and understood that mechanics of film making. His favourite movie star, actor and film maker was Warren Beatty. Upon watching one of William Friedkin's films with him, he quipped at one point: "Typical William Friedkin direction". He has a point. Besides 'The French Connection' and 'The Exorcist', what has this man done that is really considered landmark film making? Friedkin's career seemed to dry up after 'The Exorcist'. Perhaps it was because of his frightful reputation for allegedly abusing his cast and crew. A real life priest named Reverend William O'Malley, who played Father Dyer in 'The Exorcist', administers the last rites to father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) at the end of the film after Karras crashes down a flight of stairs. If you watch carefully, O'Malley's hand shakes as he makes the sign of the cross. This was NOT acting. According to various reports, Friedkin slapped him across the face to get him in character for that tragic scene and it worked magnificently. Friedkin is also said to have thrown the original music score for 'The Exorcist', by Lalo Schifrin, into the studio parking lot in a fit of rage because he thought it was so bad. Credit the 25th anniversary release of 'The Exorcist' on DVD for this information. Friedkin never even came close to re-gaining legendary status for any film after 'The Exorcist' and 'Rules of Engagement' has Friedkin written all over it. The semi-documentary style of photography, long tracking shots, and blistering performances make it a return to the old days for the Oscar-winning director. Colonel Hayes Hodges (Tommy Lee Jones) and Colonel Terry L. Childers (Samuel L. Jackson) play friends who have put their lives into serving their country. Childers has an important mission go awry in the eyes of some and he has to go on trial for it. While protecting U.S. Ambassador Mourain (Ben Kingsley) and his family, including his wife (Anne Archer) in a third world country, shots are fired at the embassy through a protest turned violent by the crowd and the lives of the Americans are clearly threatened. The order is given by Childers for his men to return fire and many civilians are killed. The entire fiasco is captured on video by the embassy's camera and Childers is informed by his superior officer back home that he will go on trial for murder as it is believed that Childers opened fire for for no apparent reason! It turns out that the military doesn't want a black eye and the U.S. National Security Advisor, William Sokal (Bruce Greenwood), destroys the tape that could clear Childers at trial and wants one man to take the fall for the entire episode of events. Childers enlists the aid of Colonel Hayes Hodges (Jones) to defend him at trial. Hodges' record is shaky and he tells Childers he needs a better lawyer to go up against the government's top gun and prosecutor Major Mark Biggs (Guy Pearce). Other supporting players in the film such as performances by Philip Baker Hall as Hodges' father and Blair Underwood as a loyal and fellow officer side by side with Childers during the battle add little to the film and this movie has a weird scope of academics about it. My eyes were glued to the screen during the embassy shoot out and the whole thing is staged very well. Another plus to the film is the research put forward by Hodges as he travels to the scene of the alleged crime by himself and makes some interesting discoveries. The court room scenes are also very compelling but much of the film drags at other times. The performance by Guy Pearce as the military prosecutor is comparable to the performance by Kevin Bacon in 'A Few Good Men' as Capt. Jack Ross, who prosecutes the case against two young marines accused of murder. Guy Pearce is best known for his turn as the straight laced policeman Ed Exley in 'L.A. Confidential'. He's an actor who is English born but who works the American accent very well. 'Rules of Engagement' is one of those touchy/feely films that may strike a nerve too close to government that will make some disregard it and want to bury it. Its entire structure is based on distrust of those in government and the film will have a tough sell on many fronts as many politically charged films usually do. It has a believable ending, crisp performances from its leads and William Friedkin doesn't exactly set any new trends but his experiences as a calculated film maker save this from being a failure. It is a watchable piece of entertainment that is somewhat predictable and is another film since 1998's 'The Negotiator', and 1996's 'A Time to Kill', that places Samuel L. Jackson's character on trial, whether it be in a courtroom or in the minds of others. Visit FILM FOLLOW-UP by Walter Frith

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