Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 11/2/00
2000 (2000) - Paramount
review by Brad Pilcher of
The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/B-
Specs and Features
127 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced,
single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, audio
commentary by director William Friedkin, "behind-the-scenes"
featurette, cast and crew interviews, film-themed menu screens,
scene access (15 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0),
French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned
"I was not going
to sit by and watch another Marine die just to live by those rules!"
Rules of Engagement features
Samuel L. Jackson as Colonel Terry Childers and Tommy Lee Jones as
Colonel Hays Hodges. During the Vietnam War, Childers saved Hodges'
life. So thirty years later, when Childers is court marshaled after
ordering his soldiers to fire on a crowd of demonstrators outside
the U.S. embassy in Yemen, he asks Hodges to return the favor. So
goes the basic plot of this film. There's plenty of subterfuge here.
For example, there's the corrupt National Security Advisor, played
by Bruce Greenwood, who is covering up evidence that could clear
Childers. There's the U.S. ambassador, whose life Col. Childers
saved in Yemen - he's being pressured by the National Security
Advisor to lie about it. But ultimately, the plot boils down to a
courtroom drama about the actions of Childers in combat. Was the
order to fire into the crowd right or wrong? Sure... all of that
sounds like a pretty promising (if not too original) story idea. The
problem is that the damned script fumbles over its own villain. Even
solid performances by an all-star cast and quality directing can't
save it. That's not to say that Rules of
Engagement is a horrible film. It isn't. It succeeds in
one thing - it left me in doubt over what the ending would be. It
ends up being a compelling drama, but only due to the magnetism of
the actors on screen. The script they were working with failed them.
Let's break down the faults of the film. Take the villain -
standard Hollywood script formula says that you always need some
sort of clearly defined villain. But in this case, the villain
actually works against the movie. This film is a compelling question
dramatized in an entirely believable situation. What should the
rules of engagement be? How do we confront the unfortunate realities
of those rules? That's dramatic enough - you don't need some
nefarious government official. The worst thing to do here was to
have the National Security Advisor actively suppressing evidence. It
derails the whole moral quandary and instead pits the good guy
Marine versus an evil government persecutor looking for a scapegoat.
Either of those scenarios would make for a fine movie, but you've
got to go one way or the other. If you're going to have the good guy
Marine, then make him a clear-cut good guy. If you're going to have
the moral quandary, then focus in on the complex realities of
Childers and leave the evil government official out of it. The
ending doesn't help any, and while I won't give it away, I'll say
that it would be a wonderful ending for the moral quandary angle,
but leaves you unresolved as to the whole "good guy versus evil
official" plot. Since the film can't figure out which of these
it wants to follow, the ending comes off as somewhat unsatisfying.
The DVD itself is an equally mixed bag of good content with a lack
of focus. The anamorphic video is crisp and clean, but somehow the
colors are a bit too muted. The whites are also a little on the
bright side, on occasion, but I think that's a minor issue. Overall,
this is a good transfer - but nothing special. The audio is also
pretty good. The dialogue seems a bit lost in the mix, but it finds
it's place and stays there. There's some good play with panning and
interesting surround effects, but ultimately it comes off as being
less dynamic than it could have been.
As far as extras... well, they're less than thrilling. There's a
nice little featurette with interviews. There's also a nice little
featurette with behind-the-scenes footage. I say they're nice and
little, because they offer nothing more than studio promotional
style fluff - the kind of thing you'd expect to find on Entertainment
Tonight or Access Hollywood.
Aside from that, you don't get much more other than a commentary
track with director William Friedkin. It's good, but it has a few
problems. For one thing, Friedkin stops talking for long stretches
of time. That would be fine, if we could hear the audio from the
movie during the breaks. We can't, and I don't want to sit through
silence. When Friedkin does have something to say, however, it's
interesting. In the beginning of the track, he says that we should
take his comments with a grain of salt, because they're only his
version of the truth. He then goes on to say plenty about his own
preferences in filmmaking. That's cool to hear from a guy like
Friedkin, and it manages to redeem the disc somewhat.
Rules of Engagement is a mixed
bag of a film, and this disc mirrors that. It's unfortunate, because
the premise was great and the first twenty minutes of the film were
really going somewhere. Still, if you have the extra cash and you
need something to watch over the weekend, you could do much worse
than this. The performances alone, mixed with Friedkin's commentary,
make it worth spinning at least once.