Rules of Engagement is a 2000 military legal thriller directed by William Friedkin, starring Samuel L. Jackson as USMC Colonel Terry Childers, a Marine Officer charged with ordering the massacre of civilians protesting outside an embassy, and Tommy Lee Jones as USMC Colonel Hayes Hodges, a JAG lawyer and old friend of Childers, who is defending him against the charges.
Tropes positively identified here are:
- Action Prologue: Two of them; the first is a flashback to the Vietnam War, and the second is the incident in Yemen which ends up leading to Childers' court martial.
- The Alcoholic: Colonel Hodges, who has mostly managed to kick the habit by the time the movie's events get underway, but relapses hard after discovering exactly how hopeless Childers' case appears to be.
- Bittersweet Ending: As Hodges notes in his closing statement, Childers' career in the military will be over regardless, with the only difference being whether he's found innocent (and thus gets an honorable discharge), or guilty (and thus gets jail time). In the end, Childers does get found guilty of a breach of the peace, but acquitted on all other charges — and presumably he got a slap on the wrist for the breach of the peace charge, seeing how the epilogue confirms he was honorably discharged.
- Black-and-Gray Morality: Sokal is clearly in the wrong by suppressing evidence and trying to throw Childers under the bus, but Childers himself is no saint, having executed a POW in Vietnam and ordered his men to open fire on a crowd of civilians in Yemen. However, Childers was at least trying to save the lives of the men under his command, while Sokal can't claim any such mitigation.
- Colonel Badass: Childers is a highly decorated marine with a distinguished record of service spanning over three decades. Hodges, not so much, either in terms of combat ability (with him suffering a Game-Breaking Injury years before he achieved that rank) or lawyerly skill.
- Court-martialed: Childers' being court-martialled for firing into a crowd of supposedly unarmed civilians forms the basis of the second half of the movie.
- Desk Jockey: After serving as a lieutenant in Vietnam and being wounded in action, Hayes Hodges stayed in the Marines and spent 28 years as a JAG officer, rising to the rank of colonel.
- A Father to His Men: Colonel Childers DOES NOT take it lightly when his men are killed (which is the main reason he gives the order to fire on the crowd) and during his bout with Major Biggs he unapologetically states that he wasn’t going to stand by and see another one of his Marines die just to appease the likes of men like Biggs.
- Hollywood Law: Sokal is worried about political pressure from other countries about the internationally publicized "slaughter of innocent civilians in Yemen", so he hides the one piece of evidence that would exonerate Col. Childers: a video tape of the crowd initiating contact with the Marines. Sokal does this as a means of "throwing Childers under the bus". The problem with that is that not only would that tape reveal that Col. Childers was innocent and performed his duty admirably, but it would remove all political pressure from the US - thus removing the reason why Sokal hid the tape in the first place. Couple that with the evidence presented in the courts-martial that proved Col. Childers innocent, and, therefore, would have been returned to active duty. In short, Sokal helped propagate the very problem he was trying to solve: political pressure against the US, that would cause embassies to be removed around the world.
- Jaded Washout: Hodges is an interesting case. The description of him states that he returned from a brutal battle in Vietnam and “became a cynic” graduating 67th in his law school class at Georgetown Lawnote , has lost more cases than he won, and is two weeks from retirement. But he made Colonel, implying a highly successful career as a JAG attorney, and is shown to be well-liked by other marines during his retirement party.
- Married to the Job: Colonel Childress. Major Biggs even lampshades it buy saying that the Colonel has no wife, no kids or not even a girlfriend, just the Corps.
- Precision F-Strike: WASTE THE MOTHERFUCKERS!! As uttered by Samuel L. Jackson himself when ordering his unit to fire into the crowd. Unfortunately for Childers, it also ends up being a Precision F-Strike when Biggs brings it up during the court martial.
- Protagonist-Centered Morality: As the film is told from the perspective of the American military, the massacre of the Yemeni civilians is grossly overlooked and deemed collateral damage, simply because our protagonist followed the rules of engagement.
- The Scapegoat: As a result of the bad press from the deaths of the Yemeni crowd, Sokal tries to turn Childers into this, and threatens Mourain with being made the scapegoat himself if he doesn't help take Childers down.
- Ungrateful Bastard: Played with in the case of Ambassador Mourain, who is genuinely grateful for Childers' saving his and his family's life, and initially aghast at the idea of scapegoating Childers for the incident. However, when threatened with being himself scapegoated instead, he chooses to put his own career first.
- Violence Is Disturbing: The shooting of the crowd is depicted very realistically, with quick shots of people spitting up black blood. It is not glamorised or celebrated.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: After the trial ends, captions reveal that while Childers settled into retirement, Sokal was tried and jailed for obstruction of evidence, Mourain was convicted of perjury and ejected from the diplomatic corps.