Review by Paul Stathakis | 2003

Done with “Training” and ready for combat, director Antoine Fuqua presents viewers with a fictitious war in his latest drama “Tears of the Sun”. With little action and simple dialogue, the film addresses freedom and wrongdoings in Africa while revealing another side of American patriotism. Bruce Willis plays navy SEAL Lieutenant A.K. Waters, who hardly speaks during the first hour of the movie. Waters and his unit are quickly sent to war-stricken central Africa with a specific mission: to rescue four U.S. nationals.

Once Waters (and his men) enter Nigeria and find the four nationals working at a clinic, he orders them to leave back with him immediately. The priest and two nuns refuse to leave, but Dr. Lena Hendricks (Monica Bellucci) accepts to be rescued only if refugees under her care can be brought along. So, Waters makes up a lie and tells Hendricks that she’s permitted to bring her people along.

However, when they reach the helicopter, Waters tosses Hendricks aboard. She asks, “What about my people?” and Waters directly answers, “We’re not here for them.” An angry Hendricks begins weeping and shouting curses at Waters, claiming he lied to her. The helicopter lifts off the ground and flies away. The refugees stand and watch in despair.

But “Tears of the Sun” doesn’t end there. Behind his tough commanding attitude, Waters is as human as anyone else. He knows what his orders are and always sticks to his missions. But this time, he has a change of heart. Waters discovers that rebel troops are wandering Nigeria, executing innocent civilians, and even setting parts of the town on fire. He decides to trust his own judgment and go against the operation.

Waters orders the helicopter back to the refugees, telling Hendricks that she can only pick 12 refugees due to the small size of the chopper. He suggests that she choose the healthiest ones, mainly those who can walk.

But then, there’s another problem. As the rebels near Waters’ location, his chief commander (Tom Skerrit) informs him through radio communication that U.S. forces will no longer be entering Nigeria. That means the choppers won’t be returning and that Willis must safely bring the pack to a nearby border in Cameroon. “As of now, you are on your own,” says the commander.

That’s right, Bruce Willis is in charge of saving innocent lives — again. In the fashion of a classic “Rambo” scenario, Willis and his team decide to face the entire rebel army. And, it’s one big army. At one point, Willis bravely tells his commander, “My men will complete this mission.”

”Tears of the Sun” borrows action from “Black Hawk Down” and drama from “Proof of Life”. At least, that’s what it ultimately feels like. The movie is very straight-forward. The mission isn’t complicated. But the simple rescue mission eventually calls for action — only towards the last 25 minutes of the film.

”Tears of the Sun” isn’t that explosive and it certainly isn’t “Die-Hard” in disguise, nor does it try to be. Fuqua’s adventure flick is somewhat different. It reminds us of the current war in Iraq and comments on vicious slaughtering in Africa, which is something that may be happening today. The story is solid, but its unfolding isn’t – which is probably why the script doesn’t feel authentic.

Many scenes in “Tears of the Sun” are hard to watch. Be warned: there’s a certain amount of violence in this movie. The killings are brutal and subtle. Some Africans are raped, others mutilated, and many of them shot.

The movie is organized and entertaining, but it’s nothing new. Willis gives a decent performance and the rest of the supporting cast follows. The film is, at times, over-dramatic. For the most part, it’s made for the strong-hearted mainstream moviegoers. “Tears” may be well directed, but it’s an example of classic Hollywood. Yes, that means the movie ends on a soft and joyful note. And who doesn’t love happy endings? But, maybe that’s where the movie suffers. It makes combat look easy and that’s not being totally honest.

 

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