Rated R - Running Time: 1:58 - Released 3/7/03

Tears Of The Sun, written by Alex Lasker and Patrick Cirillo, directed by Antoine Fuqua (Bait, Training Day), and starring Bruce Willis, is an action movie with surprisingly little action in the first two-thirds followed by lots of violence in the final reel. With a dreadfully slow pace and a disproportionate amount of darkness, it seems like it’s trying to have something to say, but I’ll be darned if I can figure out the message. Is it that U.S. soldiers should just follow orders and leave warring nations to sort out their own problems? Is it that defying orders in the attempt to be more of a humanitarian is a noble, heroic thing even if 90% of the people you’re helping get killed anyway? Is it that Muslims around the world are just plain evil? I think the only thing I learned is if I’m ever sent on a military mission in Africa, I should bring extra camo makeup, because boy, that stuff can really sweat off.

Willis plays Navy Lieutenant A.K. Waters, leader of a special-ops team sent into war-torn Nigeria soon after the country’s democratically elected president was overthrown in a bloody coup by a military Muslim dictator who plans to seize control. The president and his entire family has been assassinated by rebel troops who are now roaming the countryside exterminating the loyal Catholic population. Waters’s team is instructed by his superior, Captain Bill Rhodes (Tom Skerritt), to evacuate American Dr. Lena Hendricks (Monica Bellucci), a priest, and two nuns from a remote mission hospital before the rebels get there. However, when he and his team arrive (via a nighttime parachute drop, the filming of which apparently killed a stuntman), Dr. Hendricks refuses to leave the mission unless Waters and his team are willing to take everyone. What had been planned as a quick and simple airlift rescue becomes a supervised nature hike to the Cameroon border, through many miles of dense jungle under enemy control with several dozen men, women, and children, some of whom can’t even walk very well.

But the trouble really starts when Waters and his men (Cole Hauser, Johnny Messner, Nick Chinlund, and several others) witness some rebels doing a little “ethnic cleansing” in a small village, and conscience gets in the way. Horrified by the violent manner in which the Muslim soldiers are behaving, they do the only humane thing and start shooting them—in direct contradiction to Rhodes’s orders of defensive engagement only. This attracts the attention of a massive rebel force with its own supply of cleanser bottles, while simultaneously forcing Capt. Rhodes (who always seems to think that the best place on an aircraft carrier to make a phone call is the flight deck with jets launching every 2.3 seconds) to utter that greatest of Navy mottoes, “You’re on your own.”

Apparently Willis wanted to make this film “to show his support for President Bush’s interventionist strategy in Iraq.” Let’s see: this movie is about a hasty and ill-advised American military attack against a foreign army perpetrated by one man who has been told not to do it by most everyone he knows, but because he is on his own in a position of power, he does it anyway, drawing many innocent civilians and American solders into the slaughter and ultimately to their deaths. Hm. It does sound familiar.

Okay, I promised myself I wouldn't get started. Regardless of the intentions behind this film or whatever its message is supposed to be, it is certainly well-acted by Willis and Bellucci—who manage a subtle mutual respect without going overboard into trite romantic territory—and by their supporting cast, with some beautiful Hawaiian scenery (most of the shooting occurred on Oahu) thanks to cinematographers Mauro Fiore and Keith Solomon. But director Fuqua’s pacing is a serious stumbling block to the film’s success as an action thriller. I realize that “hurry up and wait” is a familiar exercise in military activity, but it doesn’t need to be depicted with such painstaking authenticity in the movies. The tension doesn’t really get going until over an hour into the film, and so much of it takes place at night or in the dark, sometimes you can’t even tell what’s going on.

Moreover, as has been a problem in his past movies, Fuqua fails to get us to really like any of the characters. The brutality perpetrated by the villains is matched so well by the protagonists, and even the relationships between the good guys are so strained, we have trouble getting behind anyone. I suppose the ending is supposed to seem victorious, with the grateful natives (those who have not been killed) hugging and waving and singing to the departing soldiers (those who have not been killed), but I just couldn’t feel the thrill of victory after watching all the carnage. Shucks—I guess I’m just un-American. ***

Copyright 2003 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

Current | Archives | Oscars | About | E-Mail