Rules of Engagement is one of my earliest recollections of enjoying a film that I took up simply because of it having two men dressed in Army fatigues on the cover and I thought that it would be an action film but turned out to be a courtroom drama instead. I can’t say that I loved it but since it has its share of war violence, I was not exactly disappointed. However watching it again after a hiatus of almost 10 years, I found it absorbing and quite brilliant in its treatment of the subject matter at its core.
Colonel Terry Childers (Samuel L Jackson) is sent to Yemen to safeguard and evacuate US diplomats from their embassy that has been surrounded by violent protestors. As Childers reaches the spot he is welcomed with incessant gunfire and he loses three marines even before he is able to evacuate the diplomat and his family who are stranded there. Childers finally orders fire on the mob and a lot of Yemenis are killed. Back in the US, the secretary is flabbergasted at Childers’ actions that have put him in a difficult diplomatic situation. He wants to put the whole issue to rest by crucifying Childers and showing the world that he has acted on that one man who was to blame for the fiasco. Childers requests his counsel to be a soon to be retired Colonel, Hodges (Tommy Lee Jones), who also happens to have served with Childers in Vietnam and one who owes his life to Childers. What happens next forms the crux of the narrative.
Rules Of Engagement is an immersive and engaging film. It starts off with a brief sequence in Vietnam where the basis of Childers’ and Hodges’ friendship is laid out. Following that we see the whole mission in Yemen which takes up almost half an hour of the runtime. This is basically all the action that the film has. Even though this bit builds up at a slow pace, it is pretty engaging. This portion especially is so well acted that you will be forced to stand up and take notice. I was particularly impressed by the fact that they kept the whole incident so low key that it was rendered believable.
Once the basic premise is set up, the three major performances by Jackson, Tommy Lee Jones and Guy Pierce who plays the prosecuting lawyer take center stage. As the story builds up we see the reasons behind Childers’ action, a small but important part of which was left out of the initial sequences. There are moments when you question Childers’ character. There are moments when you hate him. However, Hodges brings to light issues and evidences that make you think for Childers with compassion and respect.
Samuel L Jackson plays a little second fiddle to Jones but he is tremendous in his act. He successfully rises above the actor that he is and becomes Childers. The same can be said about Jones who is his brilliantly captivating self. I loved his arguments overall, but his true brilliance is seen in the sequences where he is shown investigating the case in Yemen. Even he gives in to the plight of the locales there and starts questioning Childers’ action. The sequence in Yemen where he visits a makeshift hospital is stupendous. His Camaraderie with Jackson is natural and engaging. I like guy Peirce a lot and he is perfect here as the prosecuting lawyer. He changes his mannerisms to the extent that you take him for the man that he is playing. The rest of the cast are equally good.
Overall, Rules Of Engagement is one of the better Courtroom dramas to have come out of Hollywood. It may not be an instant classic like “A Few Good Men” or for that matter, “12 Angry Men”, but it sure has enough merit to keep you engrossed, entertain you and even enlighten you at many junctures. I will highly recommend this film for any and everyone who has a knack for courtroom dramas. For all the rest, you might all still have something to take home from this film.
Rating : 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)