Rules of Engagement
Reviewed by David Kashimba

In addition to excellent acting by the entire cast of Rules of Engagement, this film has two key ingredients for a successful military film - two men behind the scenes who had served in the military.

Former Secretary of the Navy, James Webb conceived the story idea for the film and was its executive producer. Webb served as a Marine infantry commander in Vietnam where he was awarded the Navy Cross for "extraordinary heroism, a Silver and Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. A Naval Academy graduate, Webb received his law degree from Georgetown Law Center. In addition to his distinguished military and government careers, he also won an Emmy Award for his journalistic coverage of the Marines in Beirut in 1983 for PBS' McNeil/Lehrer News Hour.

The second half of this behind the scenes duo is Dale Dye, the film's military technical adviser. Dye, a Vietnam veteran with 20 years in the Marines, has advised many film and television productions for military accuracy such as Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan and others. Dye's attention to detail goes far beyond the accuracy of military equipment and weapons. For the Vietnam War sequences, Dye said that he had to reach inside the actors' hearts and show "them what we were like in 1968 when we were 20-years old - what our attitudes were, what seeing that war and that brutality did to us, what it felt like to go for long periods of having nothing and being exhausted all the time and being covered with jungle sores. I had to do this because anytime you lie on a screen, you've done a disservice to America's fighting men and the 58,000 Americans who fell in Vietnam, and I won't allow that."

Indeed, it's obvious that Webb and Dye had an influence on the entire cast. Each actor brings out unique and endearing qualities of the characters they play.

Though covering an expanse of time from the Vietnam War to the present, the film focuses on the rules of engagement for a modern day rescue mission at the U.S. Embassy in Yemen. When the rescue mission goes bad and demonstrators turn violent wounding U.S. Marines, Col. Terry Childers (Samuel L. Jackson) orders his Marines to return fire. The result becomes an international incident and Childers is accused of exceeding his orders and using excessive force. He asks his old friend Col. Hays Hodges (Tommy Lee Jones) to defend him. Indebted to Childers for saving his life in Vietnam, Hodges reluctantly agrees. His reluctance comes from his honesty with himself. He knows he's not that good a lawyer, but Childers insists because Hodges knows what it's like to be in combat. At this point Hodges says, "Hell, I was just a Marine that got shot at." And it's this brutal honesty that wins the audience's respect for this character.

While this film does have a few moments where the schmaltz gets a little too thick, like Col. Childers's former enemy saluting him, they're minor bumps in a fine movie.

During the course of filming, all the actors had the opportunity to meet a lot of real Marines. "I've always admired them and what they do," Jones said. "I sincerely hope we serve them well with this picture." It was this kind of concern by Dye, Webb and the entire cast that make Jones' words ring true.

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