Rules of Engagement

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Rules of Engagement Movie Poster Image
Tense but shallow military drama heavy on violence, language
  • R
  • 2001
  • 128 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Mixed messages. Celebrates loyalty, camaraderie, honor, service, and sacrifice of those serving in the military. Politicians are corrupt and morally repugnant; they'll hang anyone out to dry to save their careers or further a country's purported political needs.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Childers and Hodges are honorable men, tested in battle, and both have served their country long and well. Prosecutor Biggs is slick and adept at working the system but also is honorable and refuses to further the political aims of the court-martial. The head of the National Security Agency and the ambassador who was rescued are traitorous and willing to lie and cover up evidence to save their own careers and to further what they see as the country's political needs.


Combat scenes show heavy gunfire; graphic depictions of those being shot; blood and gore spraying, spattering, and spurting. Many gory, bloody depictions of the wounded and dead include women, children, and elderly men as well as soldiers. A POW is executed by a gunshot to the head; his body and bloody wound are shown. A mob throws rocks and Molotov cocktails, storms a building with a battering ram, and fires on the building with guns. An extended fistfight with punches and kicks shows bloody injuries to the face.


"Motherf--ker," "s--t," "dammit," "f--k," "bulls--t," "ass," "f--king," "goddamn."



Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A party in a bar shows a large crowd with drinks. Hodges and Childers drink hard alcohol once each when they're upset; the only consequence is they get in a fistfight with each other that ends in laughter.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Rules of Engagement shows intense depictions of combat with a lot of graphic, gory gunshot wounds. There are many gory, bloody depictions of the injured and dead that include women and children as well as soldiers. Profanity is strong and frequent, mostly variations of "f--k," "s--t," and "damn." There is some drinking as well. End titles explaining what became of the main characters may make it seem like a true story; it's not.

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What's the story?

Toward the end of a long and illustrious career in the Marines, Col. Terry Childers (Samuel L. Jackson) is sent in command of a rescue mission to the U.S. embassy in Yemen. The mission to evacuate the ambassador and his family goes south, and the platoon loses three Marines and gets pinned down. Childers orders his troops to fire on the rioting crowd, killing women and children. The backlash at home is intense, and Childers is court-martialed for murder. He asks his buddy from the Vietnam War, Col. Hodges (Tommy Lee Jones), to defend him. Hodges is by no means the best lawyer available, but Hodges will leave no stone unturned to help his friend. Will Childers be the scapegoat, or will justice be done?

Is it any good?

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT presents extreme graphic violence designed to shock and horrify, and it certainly succeeds in doing that. Unfortunately, even older teens who can handle the gore and prolific swearing won't be left with much to think about. The strong cast is serviceable but never really transcendent. The plot provides a lot of tension, and there's a fair amount of suspense over Childers' fate, but it isn't enough to sustain interest. The story takes on a lot: a disastrous battle in Vietnam, a rescue mission in Yemen gone bad, a long-term friendship, an investigation, a court-martial, politicians saving their careers. But the attempt to provide breadth only shortchanges depth and leaves the viewer mainly frustrated by the sense that there was a better movie in there somewhere.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about graphic violence in movies. How does what you see in this movie compare to others you've seen? Does it help tell the story? How does it make you feel?

  • Were you surprised by the outcome of the court-martial? Why, or why not?

  • Were the events and the actions of the characters realistic? What was easy to believe could really have happened? Was anything hard to believe?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

Themes & Topics

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