Engaging but Forgettable
When Ambassador Mourain (Ben Kingsley) and his family become pinned down in their home in the Yemen by snipers and rioting civilians in the streets below Col Terry Childers (Samuel L. Jackson) and his elite team are sent in to recover the Ambassador and his family. But having evacuated the Ambassador and his family Childers and his Marines find them selves pinned down on the roof top with Childers having no option but to order his men to open fire on the civilians below as that is where some of the gun fire is originating from. But Childers actions cause an international incident and back in America National Security Advisor Bill Sokal (Bruce Greenwood) wants Childers to be made an example off and refuses even to look at video evidence which might exonerate him. Facing a court martial Childers visits his friend, soon to be retired military lawyer, Col. Hayes 'Hodge' Hodges who served with him in Vietnam and who reluctantly agrees as he owes Childers for saving his life back in Vietnam. But it brings himself up against hot shot lawyer Maj. Mark Biggs (Guy Pearce) whilst also those who believe that Childers is a loose canon who lost it and doesn't deserve Hodges help.
A cast with many recognizable names and faces, a director who has directed some big movies, some impressive action scenes which pave the way to a courtroom drama where a troubled lawyer gets to try and clear the name of an innocent man. Written like that and "Rules of Engagement" sounds like it should be a slam dunk as it has everything going for it especially with two of Hollywood's biggest and best actors, Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson, in lead roles. But whilst there is nothing wrong with "Rules of Engagement" it is only okay and doesn't deliver anything more than mainstream entertainment.
In a way the trouble with "Rules of Engagement" is a matter of potential as it has potential all over the place. There is the potential for depth when it comes to when if ever it is alright for a soldier to shoot in to a group of civilians. There is also the potential for mystery with whether or not Childers is being made a scapegoat by Bill Sokal. And there is potential for putting ghosts to rest with Hodges getting to deal with the memories of Vietnam which haunt him and have driven him to drink whilst living in the shadow of a more decorated and respected father. But instead of exploring the potential Friedkin keeps things simple and mainstream, never challenging the audience to try and read between the lines, spoon feeding the detail so that it ends up simply entertaining rather than deep and powerful.
But as I said there is nothing wrong with "Rules of Engagement" and the fact it keeps things simple means audiences can sit back and enjoy their favourite actors putting in a solid turn. And audiences are spoilt for choice because in the corner of good you have Jones and Jackson whilst in the opposing corner you have Pearce as an enthusiastic lawyer making his name and Greenwood turning in an in your face villain performance. But there is no light and shade to these characters they are what you see right down to the open skulduggery of Greenwood as Bill Sokal.
What this all boils down to is that "Rules of Engagement" is a nice bit of mainstream entertainment with a nice cast putting in some nice performances. But whilst nice "Rules of Engagement" could have been so much more and it is a real shame that it isn't because in being nice "Rules of Engagement" is forgettable.