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Rules of Engagement

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Review by Susan Granger
3 stars out of 4

It's the sheer star power of Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson that propels this picture. Based a novel by James Webb, former Secretary of the Navy, it revolves around a highly decorated 30-year Marine veteran, Col. Terry Childers (Jackson), who is court-martialed. The case involves an incident in which the U.S. Embassy in Yemen was surrounded by angry, fanatic demonstrators. Amid the violence, Childers was ordered to take in three helicopters and evacuate the terrified Ambassador (Ben Kingsley) and his family. In the subsequent melee, three of his Marines were killed and, following his explicit orders, his men gunned down 83 Yemeni civilians - men, women and children - and wounded many others. Col. Childers became a scapegoat in the diplomatic outcry that followed . To mount his defense, Childers chooses a wartime buddy, a cynical, just-retired Marine lawyer, Hays Hodges (Jones), whose life he saved in Vietnam back in 1968. Together, they face off against a malevolent National Security Adviser (Bruce Greenwood) and a young, zealous prosecutor (Guy Pearce) - but they lack the hard evidence necessary to present a strong defensive case. Director William Friedkin captures the intense tension of this combat-and-courtroom drama but he's hampered by Stephen Gaghan's hackneyed, predictable screenplay which is marred by superficial characterizations and cliche-ridden dialogue. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Rules of Engagement" is a slick, suspenseful 7. And, if you enjoy this kind of provocative, what-really-happened enigma, I recommend "Courage Under Fire" with Meg Ryan and Denzel Washington, which delves into a combat incident during the Gulf War.

Copyright 2000 Susan Granger

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