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Paramount Studios presents
Rules of Engagement (2000)

"Whether a man is charged with murder or hailed as a hero is sometimes a very thin line. "
- Major Biggs (Guy Pearce)

Review By: Kevin Clemons   
Published: October 05, 2000

Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson
Other Stars: Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Bruce Greenwood, Blair Underwood, Anne Archer
Director: William Friedkin

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for for scenes of war violence, and for language
Run Time: 02h:07m:15s
Release Date: October 10, 2000
UPC: 097363321743
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

I sometimes get the uneasy feeling that having seen as many movies as I have I will at some point have seen every cliché ever created. While watching Rules Of Engagement I started to realize that my fear was coming closer and closer to becoming reality. Rules Of Engagement is predictable for the most part, poorly written at times, and drags a bit in the middle—yet I really enjoyed it.

When the film opens we are taken back nearly 30 years to the jungles of Vietnam. When Terry Childers (Jackson) has to test his moral character by choosing to shoot a prisoner-of-war in cold blood in order to save American men, including his friend, Hayes Hodges (Jones) he believes his decision is simple. His thinking is that sparing the lives of U.S. soldiers is worth violating the rules of war.

When the film flashes ahead to 1999 both Childers and Hodges are Colonels. Childers leads a Special Forces group, and Hodges has become a lawyer of questionable ability and is about to call it quits and retire. But on a seemingly routine babysitting mission to Yemen, where a group of protesters are protesting the U.S. ambassador (Kingsley) and his family, things go horribly wrong. Childers gets the ambassador and his family out safely, but loses three men in the process. While under heavy fire, he orders his platoon to fire into the crowd of gunmen. The result is 83 dead men, women, and children and an international incident. When the U.S. National Security Advisor, William Sokal (Greenwood), destroys evidence suggesting Childers' innocence in order to get a conviction on 83 counts of murder, Childers must find a lawyer. He finds one in Hodges who reluctantly accepts the case.

Rules Of Engagement offers up some very interesting questions, and sometimes they are ones that don't need to be asked. For instance, why would a National Security Advisor get rid of a tape that clearly shows that Childers is innocent? Would it not be better for the US to release the tape and be in the clear? Director William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection) does employ some interesting ideas throughout the film. He shoots many of the Yemeni scenes with a handheld camera to offer a more "you are there" feel to the shots. The courtroom scenes have their share of tense moments and it was nice to see a film that I couldn't guess the ending. The early scenes that take place in the jungles of Vietnam have almost a Saving Private Ryan feel to them and are just as well done.

Rules would not be as easy to like if it weren't for the presence of Jones and Jackson. Each is so good in their performance that they draw you along into the trial until you find yourself caring how it will turn out. It takes true acting ability to overcome a mediocre script, and luckily that is just what these two have. Other standout performances by Bruce Greenwood and Aussie Guy Pearce as a Brooklyn-born and heavily-accented Marine lawyer also make the film work. Ben Kingsley, Anne Archer, and Philip Baker Hall do well with smaller parts.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Paramount presents Rules Of Engagement in its original 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer and the result is amazing. Sharpness and colors are both great, and black levels are clear with very little grain. Flesh tones and detail are fine, and I noticed very little softness to the picture. A few moments of pixelation and shimmer are noticeable, but it is at a minimum. All told this is the best transfer I have seen from Paramount.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English and Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: WOW!!! I think that this is the first Dolby Digital 5.1 track that I have ever heard where I wanted to hear less of the surrounds. Rules Of Engagement is a nonstop assault that comes at you from every direction. Whether it is the bullets whizzing across your room or protestors screams coming from every speaker, it never quiets down. This is also the first mix that has made my cat run for cover. The score by Mark Isham envelops the viewer and sounds crisp. Dialogue during the courtroom sequences is clean and understandable, and the left and rights blend well with the other speakers. A Dolby and French 2.0 channel track is also offered but with a 5.1 track like this, I can't imagine why anyone would want to listen to it if they didn't have to.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director William Friedkin
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: Unknown

Extras Review: Aside from the curious lack of the film's original theatrical trailer, this is a very nice set of extras. First and most important is the commentary track by director William Friedkin. He gives a large amount of information, behind-the-scenes stories and also talks about his style. There are very few pauses throughout the film and Friedkin does a good job of never slowing the track down. This is a very good commentary and it is worth a listen. Also included is a 23-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that shows what went on during production and pre-production. Covering everything from the time and effort it took to film some of the big scenes as well as the training Jones and Jackson went though, this featurette is worth a look. Rounding out the features is a 12-minute interview segment with members of the cast and crew.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

No matter how predictable moments of the script are there is no denying that this is a film driven by its acting and direction. The absolutely amazing audio and video transfers are yet another reason to pick up this disc. Recommended as a rental for the curious, but a must buy for anyone who enjoys a good courtroom drama.


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