There’s a proxy war happening in Yemen at the minute, with Iran and Saudi Arabia both pretty much using the area as a battle ground, and other countries such as France keeping a keen eye as some as their weaponry sees its first ever ‘live’ combat. So later at the end of this month this release might appear timely, as The French Connection director William Friedkin’s Yemen-based military drama Rules of Engagement gets its first Blu-Ray release outside Germany.
Samuel L. Jackson plays Colonel Childers, a Marine heading an evacuation mission in Yemen, rescuing the U.S. Ambassador (Ben Kingsley) from enraged locals, who are either directly or indirectly giving shelter to extremists as they protest. During the evacuation Childer’s unit comes under fire,losing three Marines, he then orders his men to return fire into the crowd. After 83 bodies including women and children are strewn across the streets, Childers finds himself indicted for murder and calls upon old Vietnam war buddie and Marine lawyer, Col. Hayes Hodges (Tommy Lee Jones) to defend his ass from hot shot Marine prosecutor Major Mark Biggs, played by Guy Pierce.
This film courted notable controversy at the time, with allegations of racism and jingoism and an anti-Islamic and anti-Arab slant. This was pre-9/11, mind, so if that was the case, it was probably just recklessness or a bungled attempt to carve out some notoriety. William Friedkin knows how to direct a good film, we know that. And for the most part he does a good job here, with actors bringing their A-game. Most of the dialogue, delivery and scenery for the first 3/4s are mildly captivating. I mean, even for less important scenes or interactions, Friedkin makes sure they’re happening against a backdrop where something interesting is happening. John McTiernan mentions the importance of this in Die Hard commentary by the way – always make every shot in some way visually unique or interesting.
Friedkin directs a great battle scene. There are two in this movie, the Vietnam intro and the evacuation scene at the embassy. I would have liked to have seen a full blown war movie by his hands based on the combat scenes from this movie alone. The latter court scenes though are lacking and the conclusion of the case especially, patently absurd. They pretty much torpedo a movie that was hopefully moving towards being watchable.
To lead that into the Blu-Ray review of this movie, Friedkin’s commentary is frantic especially during those court scenes. He is keen to stress that this movie is neither pro nor anti and intended to call a grey-area story down the middle, you can barely hear a word uttered by the cast, such is the rigor of Friedkin’s ‘explanations’. He also mentions that ending, which won’t be spoiled here, where he reveals that the conclusion was tampered with after he had finished the project. I suppose that makes sense, disjointed as it was.
I’m kind of disappointed by the technical side of things here. The picture looks tired and like a jazzed up DVD transfer and struggles to rise beyond 20MBPS. Some scenes pop with a feeling of three dimension, but a positive impression isn’t left. The audio, DTS-HD 5.1, is far more impressive, especially during the combat scenes where sound is used by the director to instruct the viewer what is happening between Jones and Jackson, in different areas, since they can’t see each other. Oh, and two age-old documentaries are here. A cast and crew EPK and a behind the scenes feature, both amount to about half an hour.