By Nicole Kobie
There are rules to making a good movie. First, write a dramatic, meaningful screenplay. Second, create dialogue between characters that’s believable and captivating. Then, hire actors everyone knows and are impossible to dislike, or find a movie that’s already been successful, and copy it.
Rules of Engagement does all these things. It is the story of Colonel Terry Childers (Samuel L. Jackson), a Vietnam vet, hero and decorated marine, who leads a squad into the embassy in Yemen. The embassy is surrounded by angry protesters, and Childers is there to provide extra security and possibly evacuate the ambassador and his family. Things turn ugly and the embassy is fired upon.
Several of Childers’ men are shot, in one of the most frustrating sequences Hollywood has ever produced. For some reason, the marines do not return fire. They just sit there and get shot at by terrorists on neighbouring rooftops. Childers finally orders them to shoot, but at the crowd of protesters below. Why he does this is subtly hinted at but not explained until much later, leaving the audience wondering why he shouldn’t go to jail. However, once he does get court-martialed, a security camera tape that could potentially exonerate him goes missing. From there on in, it’s pretty obvious Childers will not be found guilty. From the dialogue, it sounds like the odds are stacked against him, but the evidence presented against him isn’t really compelling. Colonel Hays Hodges (Tommy Lee Jones) defends Childers, not because he’s a good lawyer, but because Childers saved his life in Vietnam
Essentially, it comes down to this: if what Childers did was wrong, he is a murderer, and by extension, a murderer his whole military career.
One of the most interesting parts of Rules is the dialouge. Sure, it’s typical courtroom drama for the most part, but scenes between Hodges and locals in Yemen are inspired, as are the interactions between Hodges and his marine father and his own anti-war son.
Jackson and Jones round out this well-cast movie, but are not the only big names. Ben Kingsley plays a small role as the ambassador, with Anne Archer as his wife. Guy Pearce is excellent as the talented, driven prosecutor, a perfect foil to Jones’ tired lawyer.
Rules is definitely comparable to A Few Good Men. Both movies focus on the changing world of the military, and how it’s now full of men and women who have never actually fought a real war.
However, while A Few Good Men is directed more from the point of view of the young, Rules is about old marines and the honour associated with seniority. However, the conspiracy side of Rules is less complicated and more contrived than A Few Good Men, and the courtroom scenes are less inspired. However, while the courtroom scenes are weak, the Vietnam flashbacks and the sequences of the battle and fallout in Yemen are well done.
Rules of Engagement is definitely worth a look, but don’t expect anything new.