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Rules of Engagement

Director:William Friedkin
Writer:Stephen Gaghan
Paramount Pictures; R; 123 minutes
Release:4/00
Cast:Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson, Guy Pearce

I was unimpressed by The Exorcist, never made it to see The French Connection, and so the most recent film of director William Friedkin came as far less of a disappointment for me than for many others who had flown their hopes as high as the American flag flies in this flick. It's a guy film and a patriot film, opening with a Vietnam battle sequence which segues into a Yemen battle sequence, which stumbles down the popular path to right-wing courtroom drama.

The drama in question revolves around Colonel Childers (Samuel Jackson), accused of a modern-day My Lai massacre in Yemen. Childers' claims he was defending his men, and convinces a drunk old war buddy (Tommy Lee Jones) to defend him in court. Marquee names notwithstanding, Rules of Engagement is entirely avoidable, more for its inchoate plot and underdeveloped characters than for the fact that the movie's dramatic crux revolves around whether or not it was OK to murder 83 Arab men, women, and children, all portrayed with the usual shrill fanatic foreignness. Guy Pearce (the goody-goody cop from L.A. Confidential) bares his actorly teeth in the courtroom face-off with Jones, but the true grit and necessary tension are out to lunch.


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