TEARS OF THE SUN
Ethnic cleansing is sweeping war-torn Nigeria, where rebel forces have assassinated the presidential family. As US forces evacuate the country, hard-bitten Navy SEAL Lt. A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis) is ordered to rescue an American doctor (Monica Bellucci) working in a refugee camp about to be razed by guerrillas. It's a routine mission for Waters and his elite squad, but when the doc refuses to leave without the 70 sick and injured in her camp, things get complicated, as the gorgeous doctor spurs his morals – and his libido - into a crisis of conscience. With his unit pursued by the guerrillas and surrounded by the horrors of ethnic cleansing, Waters defies his boss (Tom Skerritt) and attempts to march the refugees all the way into Cameroon.
Review by Richard Kuipers:
The action scenes in Tears Of The Sun are strictly standard-issue but when the guns are silent this is a thoughtful and emotionally powerful vision of hell on earth. What's compelling about Antoine Fuqua's film is its impressionistic treatment of a story we've seen dozens of times before. Until the predictable display of pyrotechnics at the climax, the screenplay by Patrick Cirillo and Alex Lasker prefers to focus on the kinds of issues rarely posed in contemporary war movies. Morality, conscience and idealism are intelligently treated as Waters confronts the horrors of ethnic ‘cleansing’ and makes decisions he can hardly comprehend himself at first. When one of Waters' men asks why he turned the chopper around and placed his unit's lives in danger, the veteran commander replies "when I figure that out, I'll let you know." Maybe it's the sight of slaughtered villagers that provokes him to later admit that "it's been so long since I've done a good thing - the right thing." The answers become clearer as we witness the man inside Waters challenging the career soldier who is used to carrying out missions without question and referring to people as "packages." Willis is at his best in this kind of role. He proves his star quality by playing heroic and vulnerable with equal conviction and is teamed to good effect with an excellent Monica Bellucci as the woman lucky enough to be American by marriage and therefore, in Uncle Sam's eyes, worth rescuing. It's also refreshing to report that philosophical and not romantic interplay between the doctor and the soldier is at the core of a drama that uses words sparsely and effectively. With the atmospheric images by cinematographers Mauro Fiore and Keith Solomon maximising the menace of the jungle, Tears Of The Sun exceeds expectations before falling into cliche at the final hurdle. So abrupt is the swing from mood piece to action-feast it seems like the final half-hour of a different and much inferior film has been tacked on by studio bosses. Ignore the no-brainer climax and you're still left with 90 minutes that go above and beyond the call of war movie duty.
Review by Shannon J. Harvey:
Is anyone but me bothered by the recent trend of Hollywood blockbusters which turn real-life war events into viscerally thrilling action movies full of yahoo heroics and Yankee humanitarians? Considering America's recent interventions overseas, it leaves something decidedly distasteful in the mouth. Behind Enemy Lines was inspired by the lone US pilot shot down over Bosnia in 1995, played by Owen Wilson, who proceeded to wage a one-man war against ethnic ‘cleansing’. Black Hawk Down was a very American slant on their
bloody 1993 engagement in Mogadishu, where the travesty of 18 dead US soldiers far outweighed that of hundreds Somalis. While those films at least offered compelling food for thought, others like Windtalkers and Collateral Damage simply induced the gag reflex. Now we have Bruce Willis reprising his Die Hard days in Tears Of The Sun, which goes deep into war-torn Nigeria to show the world that America drops bombs better than anyone. What else is one to make of this fairly bloodthirsty fantasy in foreign territory, where US Forces are again compelled to save the world? But perhaps that's also the film's most naively noble aspect. It advocates a policy of humanitarian intervention, but can only achieve it using deadly force. Ah, the irony of war. Most potently, the film opens with actual newsreel footage of Nigerian citizens being gunned down on the streets by the guerrillas, and it's a gruesome real-life prelude to the make-believe to come. And although we know the film is fiction, we also know from the news that's not too far from the truth. But would such a steely-eyed soldier as Willis portrays him - like a bald, battle-scarred Rambo - really defy orders and put his unit at stake for such a humanitarian cause? If he did, there would be hell to pay. However moral, his actions are pretty unbelievable, and this lets the film down immeasurably. But it is food for thought, and director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) has made a confronting immersion into a third-world state of war. He certainly can direct some gripping skirmishes and bloody battle scenes, but his visual flair isn't equalled by a believable story. In the end, Tears of the Sun cries a river of high-minded cliches, but the issues it raises are both noble, topical and worth exploring. And that makes it an interesting - if flawed - moral exercise.
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TEARS OF THE SUN (MA)
CAST: Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci, Cole Hauser, Eamonn Walker, Johnny Messner, Nick Chinlund, Charles Ingram, Paul Francis, Chad Smith, Tom Skerritt
PRODUCER: Ian Bryce, Mike Lobell, Arnold Rifkin
DIRECTOR: Antoine Fuqua
SCRIPT: Alex Lasker, Patrick Cirillo
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mauro Fiore
EDITOR: Conrad Buff
MUSIC: Lisa Gerrard, Hans Zimmer
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Naomi Shohan
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 14, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: January 21, 2004