William Friedkin ever since the critical and commercial failures of two of his best films Sorcerer (quite possibly his masterpiece) and Cruising he has been forced to do director for hire films that weren’t rewarding artistically until his recent forays into independent filmmaking. To Live and Die in L.A is the exception in the ’80s and his recent independent films Bug and Killer Joe rank up there with his classics of the ’70s. Rules of Engagement is a film he made in 2000 and is somewhat forgotten in his body of work despite having strong performances from its cast.
Col Terry L. Childers (Samuel L. Jackson) and Col Hays Lawrence “Hodge” Hodges II (Tommy Lee Jones) are army buddies who were in ‘Nam together. Childers is facing trial for possible court-martial due to his role in possibly murdering innocent civilians in a protest outside of the American Embassy in Yemen despite following his orders. Childers saved Hodges’ life in ‘Nam so when so he takes up the case. They are facing an uphill battle because the higher-ups especially since NSC advisor Bill Sokal (Bruce Greenwood) proceeds with the case due to negative views of US foreign policy.
Friedkin’s characteristic style is mainly absent from the rather pedestrian look of the film which is shocking given the fact two master cinematographers shot the film William A. Fraker and Terry Gilliam’s go to DOP Nicola Pecorini. It’s pretty shocker to think this film cost $60 Million but I guess the actor’s fees must have been high? The film was criticised by some as being “anti-arab” and it’s not in the slightest, it’s about terrorists in the Arab world but the film certainly doesn’t take any political sides except the US Military justice system is corrupt. The film seems to have become more relevant in a post 9/11 world however.
The film’s real virtues are its cast Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson are obviously great actors so they certainly put in typical rock solid performances. The supporting cast is helped enormously by Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley who give convincing American accents and Philip Baker Hall plays Hodges’ father. Bruce Greenwood gives an early performance in a Hollywood film. Rules of Engagement in retrospect is a flawed thriller because you know from the get go what the final outcome will be but it’s not a total miss due to the cast and an interesting if predictable screenplay from Jim Webb who served in the US Marines during Vietnam like the film’s two main characters.
War,Drama | USA, 2000 | 15 | Fabulous Films | 28th September 2015 (UK) | Dir.William Friedkin | Samuel L. Jackson, Tommy Lee Jones, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Ann Archer | Buy: [Blu-ray]