Dir: William Friedkin. US. 2000. 127 mins.

Prod cos: Paramount Pictures, Seven Arts Pictures. Dist: Paramount (US, UK). Intl sales: Seven Arts. Prods: Richard D Zanuck, Scott Rudin. Exec prods: Adam Schroeder, James Webb. Co-prod: Arne Schmidt. Scr: Stephen Gaghan. DoPs: Nicola Pecorini, William A Fraker. Prod des: Robert Laing. Ed: Augie Hess. Music: Mark Isham. Main cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L Jackson, Guy Pearce, Bruce Greenwood, Blair Underwood, Philip Baker Hall, Anne Archer, Ben Kingsley.

Its two action sequences aside, Rules Of Engagement is a no-nonsense, sometimes thought-provoking military courtroom drama which may turn out to be a little too restrained for its own commercial good. The film's sympathetic (though, by Hollywood standards, fairly subtle) take on military morals in a post-Cold War world will resonate with mainstream American audiences but might get a cooler reception internationally, where the picture will have to rely more on the solid performances of its two leads.

Jones and Jackson play Hodges and Childers, veteran US Marines bonded for ever by an experience thirty years ago in Vietnam. During an emergency evacuation of the US Embassy in Yemen, Childers orders his troops to fire on an apparently unarmed civilian crowd and the resulting massacre threatens diplomatic disaster for the US government. Put up before a Court Marshal, Childers chooses Hodges, now a low-level military attorney, as his defence lawyer, pitting his friend's old-school code of ethics against the politically correct arguments of an aggressive young legal hot-shot (Pearce).

The Embassy firefight gets the film off to a lively start and there are hints that Hodges will develop into something more interesting than the usual uniformed hard man. The real motivation for Childers' action sustains interest for a while, but the film reveals the truth rather clumsily half-way through, diffusing the tension for the court-room climax.