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TEARS OF THE SUN(director: Antoine Fuqua; screenwriters: Alex Lasker/Patrick Cirillo; cinematographer: Mauro Fiore; editor: Conrad Buff; music: Hans Zimmer; cast: Bruce Willis (Lt. A.K. Waters), Monica Bellucci (Dr. Lena Hendricks), Cole Hauser (Red Atkins), Tom Skerritt (Capt. Rhodes), Eamonn Walker (“Zee” Pettigrew), Rodney Charles (Christian Marwah), Johnny Messner (Kelly Lake), Nick Chinlund (“Slo” Slowenski), Charles Ingram (“Silk” Owens), Malick Bowens (Colonel Sadick); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Stephen J. Eads/Mike Lobell/Arnold Rifkin; Columbia Pictures/Revolution Studios; 2003)
“By the time the film concludes, its striking message has long been forgotten…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

“Tears of the Sun” is much like those old-fashioned gung-ho John Wayne war films, except for its timely plot line and its intriguing updated message and the high tech scenes shot through the radiation-green night-goggle light that makes the jungle foliage glisten. The military-rescue thriller calls to attention how America is the world’s policeman, whether most Americans accept that role or not, and that scenario plays right into the hands of recent historical events and in particular Bush’s war plans for Iraq. The film was made as a response to America’s failure to help in the ethnic cleansing in Rwanda while under President Clinton’s watch, as 850,000 tribal Africans lost their lives. It is estimated that around half could have been saved by American intervention. At the film’s conclusion it quotes from British statesman Edmund Burke “All that is needed for the triumph of evil is for a good man to do nothing.” Despite the film’s usual Hollywood pap and its underdeveloped characterizations and all its run-of-the-mill formulaic plot devices and contrived tearjerking sentiments the message it delivers through this fictionalized work of director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day“) and screenwriters Alex Lasker and Patrick Cirillo, is fairly intriguing (though it could be argued that its message is more than somewhat lost by the time the film concludes). The film’s aim is to give recognition to how brave the soldiers are, and it’s a call for the politicians to find a noble cause so America can showcase to the world its heroes. The other thing “Tears” seems to be saying is that America can look good taking a paternalistic stance in helping those in need, as its right-wing war policy can go hand in hand with helping liberal do-gooders make the world a better place. There’s a lot of truth in the conveyed message that needs a further airing out. But Three Kings, a war story film with a similar theme, did a better job of staying more on message and of having more of a punch.

A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis) is a hardened Navy SEAL lieutenant known for his efficiency and taking on the roughest assignments, whose new mission is to take his team and parachute into the jungle of Nigeria (actually shot in Hawaii) and rescue an American doctor, Lena Hendricks (Monica Bellucci), living in a Christian mission as a member of Doctors Without Borders. There is the danger of everyone in the mission being slaughtered by rebel Muslim soldiers who have just overturned the legitimately elected government and are killing all who don’t worship the same way they do. Waters’ secondary responsibility is to rescue the Christian mission’s priest and two nuns, but only if they want to be rescued.

The dilemma for Waters comes when Lena won’t leave without 70 of those mission refugees also being rescued. The trouble is Waters’ boss, Captain Rhodes (Tom Skerritt), whose air-craft carrier the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman is stationed off the coast of Africa, says the orders are only to rescue her and he does not send enough helicopters to rescue the others. We have already seen how brutal the rebel soldiers can be as they mutilate the priest and nuns and those too sick to be moved who were left behind, so the 70 refugees who are now left behind can expect the same fate. The fierce looking Waters, proudly displaying his shaven head and an electric earpiece which seems glued to him, has a conscience attack over this, especially when Lena spits in his face after she learns she’s been tricked and the refugees are to be left to die. But Waters nobly decides on his own, in violation of his orders, to put the children and the weaker ones on the helicopter and thereby his men will walk to safety to the neighboring Cameroon border with the remaining refugees and Lena. She has a ripped blouse and a bloody nose for most of the jungle trek but in her case, as opposed to the rest of the cast, looks are not enough to convey her character with any emotional depth.

Their adventures gets played out mostly in the dark and rain of the jungle, as a sentimental subplot develops that weakens the film’s stronger goals. It seems there are 300 elite rebel soldiers, all dressed in clean green khakis and smart crimson berets, following them intently as if they know exactly where they are going. Waters learns that Lena and the refugees withheld that in their party is the son of the slain elected President, whom the rebels are intent on capturing. Also, there’s an informer among them, who for some reason is signalling their position to the enemy. With this in mind, the story becomes very predictable. After seeing a village pillaged and burned to the ground, the women raped and the villagers mutilated, Waters and his men decide to engage the enemy–which is also against orders (what the hell, when you got such cool weapons at your disposal it’s too tempting to just not use them!). It then becomes a matter of which Navy SEAL gets it first and how many will die before they reach Cameroon, or if the viewer finishes his giant popcorn container before the guaranteed happy ending.

Bruce Willis is a natural for such action films, though he’s also pretty good in comedies–especially those with children as co-stars. In “Tears” he talks with his facial expressions and his rugged looks, and his world-weary appearance conveys his stoic attitude. As for the SEALs, they were hardly given any dialogue that mattered but they looked the part; as for Italian actress Monica Bellucci’s performance, the less said the better. The film has a gritty war-torn feel and the action scenes can be viewed as a guilty pleasure. But by the time the film concludes, its striking message has long been forgotten and it takes on the ordinary look of many interchangeable hero-action films. “Tears” just lost its message on the way to Cameroon and became less than satisfactory in accomplishing its full mission as a thought-provoking film that questions when is it right to intervene for humanitarian reasons.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”