Rules of Engagement (film)

Rules of Engagement (film)

name=Rules of Engagement

caption = The movie poster for "Rules of Engagement".
writer=James H. Webb
Stephen Gaghan
starring=Tommy Lee Jones
Samuel L. Jackson
Guy Pearce
Bruce Greenwood
Blair Underwood
Philip Baker Hall
with Anne Archer
and Ben Kingsley
director=William Friedkin
cinematography = Nicola Pecorini
music=Mark Isham | editing=Augie Hess | distributor=Paramount Pictures
released=March 31, 2000
runtime=128 min.
language=English, Arabic
producer=Scott Rudin
Richard D. Zanuck
budget=$60,000,000 |

"Rules of Engagement" is a 2000 American movie starring Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones, directed by William Friedkin. The movie, a military, political, and legal drama, is about Marine Colonel Terry Childers, played by Jackson, who is court-martialed for disobeying the rules of engagement in a military incident at an American embassy in Sa'naa, Yemen, resulting in the massacre of seemingly innocent civilians by Childers' men.

The lead writer, James H. Webb, is a former Marine combat officer and lawyer and Secretary of the Navy, and is currently the junior United States Senator from Virginia.


The key scene in the movie takes place in Yemen, where an unruly crowd of local men, women and children demonstrate outside the U.S. embassy in Sana'a (for reasons that are never revealed). Colonel Childers (a veteran of Vietnam, whose actions there will play a major role later on in the film) and his men are sent in to evacuate the sniveling U.S. Ambassador, his wife and young son. During the evacuation, Childers orders his men to open fire on the crowd, resulting in dire concequences. The legal case that follows depends on whether (a) the crowd was armed and fired first or (b) Colonel Childers exceeded his orders and reacted based on anger or a darker motive (such as prejudice).

According to U.S. military law as explained in the film, Childers could be found guilty of murder for killing 83 "non-combatants". But if some of them were carrying weapons and opened fire, he could be exonerated. Colonel Hays Hodges (Tommy Lee Jones), a fellow Vietnam veteran whose life was saved by Childers, openly tells him he needs a better lawyer than Hodges in order to avoid a life sentence, because Hodges had an unimpressive career in the Marines' JAG Corps, but Childers is adamant about having Hodges as his attorney for the principal reason he has served in combat before.

The prosecution asserts that Childers' order to fire was based on personal fear, racism, or confusion. The National Security Advisor wants Childers to be convicted in order to preserve U.S. relations with Arab countries; when he receives a CCTV security videotape that shows hostile fire coming from the crowd outside the embassy, he burns the tape with the hope that the prosecution will win. The defense and Childers respond that he was in fear for his Marines' lives under fire and was in compliance with his orders and the rules of engagement. The Ambassador lies on the stand (blackmailed into co-operating by the Security Advisor) and says the crowd was peacefully demonstrating; his wife later admits the truth to Hodges but won't testify in contradiction to her husband. The prosecution introduces previous actions by then-Lieutenant Childers in Vietnam to show a history of misconduct, including a witness.

The actions in Vietnam, shown as a flashback in the first few minutes of the film, revolved around an ambush of then-Lieutenant Hodges' platoon by a Colonel Binh Le Cao, a North Vietnamese officer, and his men. While listening to sounds of the ambush, Childers and his Marines captured the Vietnamese officer and his radioman. In order to save Hodges and his platoon, Childers held a pistol to the radioman's head and tried to force Colonel Cao to withdraw his troops from the ambush in exchange for the officer and radioman's freedom. When the officer initially refused to comply, Childers executed Colonel Cao's unarmed subordinate. After the Vietnamese officer changed his mind and called off his troops, Childers complies with his promise and releases him.

During the testimony of Colonel Cao (the witness) he recounts how Childers had threatened him with death in order to save his Marines and executed his unarmed radioman. Nevertheless, the foreign officer admits that placed in the same situation, he would have most likely done the same thing. This appears to be a potential turning point in the trial and, ultimately, Colonel Childers is found not guilty of the charges of Conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman and murder, but guilty of the minor charge of breach of the peace. He retires from the Marines. A postscript title card says that the Ambassador and the National Security Advisor were also forced to leave their positions because of their mendacious behavior and obstruction of justice throughout the whole affair.


*Tommy Lee Jones - Col. Hayes Lawrence "Hodge" Hodges II
*Samuel L. Jackson - Col. Terry L. Childers
*Guy Pearce - Maj. Mark Biggs
*Ben Kingsley - Ambassador Mourain
*Bruce Greenwood - US National Security Advisor Bill Sokal
*Anne Archer - Mrs. Mourain
*Blair Underwood - Capt. Lee
*Philip Baker Hall - Gen. Hayes Lawrence Hodges, Ret.
*Dale Dye - Maj. Gen. Perry
*Amidou - Dr. Ahmar
*Mark Feuerstein - Tom Chandler
*Richard McGonagle - Judge Col. E. Warner
*Baoan Coleman - Col. Binh Le Cao
*Nicky Katt - Hayes Lawrence Hodges III


The film drew widespread criticism for its dehumanizing portrayal of Arab characters. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee described it as "probably the most racist film ever made against Arabs by Hollywood".Whitaker, Brian. [,3604,355880,00.html The 'towel-heads' take on Hollywood] , The Guardian. Friday August 11, 2000.] Paul Clinton of the Boston Globe wrote "at its worst, it's blatantly racist, using Arabs as cartoon-cutout bad guys".

Film critic and academic Mark Freeman writes: :"The Yemeni people are painted in the broadest, most racist terms imaginable. Friedkin lets his camera linger over their angry faces, exaggerating their difference: the robes, the veils, the beards, the bizarre, harsh language, and their keen desire for violence. The omission of key scenes early on only serves to emphasize the horrendous racism of this film when the 'truth' is revealed later. The message of Rules of Engagement is the necessity to kill all those who actively oppose the United States and that the murder of women and children is acceptable in such cases."Freeman, Mark. [ Review of "Rules of Engagement"] by Mark Freeman, "Senses of Cinema"]

Jack Shaheen, Professor Emeritus of Mass Communication at Southern Illinois University, has characterized the defining moment of the movie as one that "will live on Hollywood infamy", in the documentary Reel Bad Arabs. In this scene, the massacre is relived, but this time the viewer is able to see that the people who were shot by the Marines (including women and children), and who were protesting peacefully, were really armed to the teeth and firing on the Embassy. Even a four year old girl (who lost her leg in the shootings) encountered by Hodges later in the film, is now shown through flashback as drawing up a gun, and firing on the Embassy.


* [ "Rotten Tomatoes": Aggregate of Film Reviews of "Rules of Engagement"] - Cumulative Score of 37%
* [ Review of "Rules of Engagement"] by Mark Freeman, "Senses of Cinema"
* [ Review] by critic Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
* [ "Reel Bad Arabs" Media Education Foundation]

External links

* [ "Semper Fi, But Why?"] Stuart Klawans, The Nation, May 1, 2000
* [ Thoughtful review at with references to Saving Private Ryan] Box Office Leaders USA
before = "American Psycho"
date = April 9
date2 = April 16
year = 2000
after = "U-571"

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