Sunday 29 December 2019

Movie Review: Tears Of The Sun (2003)

A war action movie, Tears Of The Sun has noble intentions to increase awareness of atrocities in Africa, but a feeble script never strikes the right tones.

A civil war erupts in Nigeria with the overthrow of democratically elected President Azuka by a brutal rebel army. The United States Navy conducts dangerous missions to extract foreign nationals from the unfolding chaos. Lieutenant Waters (Bruce Willis) of the Navy SEALs and his small unit of elite soldiers are tasked by Captain Rhodes (Tom Skerritt) to rescue Dr. Lena Kendricks (Monica Bellucci) from a remote medical mission.

With the rebel army closing in Waters and his men locate Kendricks, but she insists her patients also be rescued. Waters reluctantly agrees and leads a large group of civilians towards the rendezvous site with the extraction helicopters, evading rebel patrols along the way. But both the Lieutenant and the doctor are keeping secrets from each other, and an already hazardous mission gets much more complicated when Waters starts to care about the plight of civilians and gets his squadron involved in the conflict.

Co-produced by Willis, Tears Of The Sun delves into the dirty wars of the dark continent with eyes wide open. Director Antoine Fuqua leaves no doubt the film is intended as a shocking wake-up call to the brutalities that often go unreported, and the film stops and lingers as villagers are slaughtered, raped and set on fire, child soldiers are pressed into service and mothers are maimed and their infants killed.

While Willis and his men (including stock turns by Cole Hauser, Eamonn Walker and Nick Chinlund) are supposed to be the jaded veterans jolted into taking a stand by what they are witnessing, the script by Alex Lasker and Patrick Cirillo falls far short. With no character depth whatsoever, the film delivers plastic and prepackaged emotions and flat drama. Neither Waters nor Doctor Kendricks are provided any context or compelling intensity, and the Africans are all reduced to horribly shallow and stereotypical representations of helpless locals awaiting rescue by mostly white American men.

Stylistically Fuqua does better in portraying an eternally wet jungle aesthetic, and the few but fierce action scenes almost save the movie. One sequence features the SEALs stealthily moving against murderous rebels terrorizing a village, while the final battle is a climactic backs-against-the-wall, few-against-many epic showdown. The action is vivid, including relatively accurate portrayals of battlefield tactics.

But unfortunately Tears Of The Sun ends with a gag-inducing stand-and-cheer (literally) celebration of the all-conquering US military by ever grateful black locals, the film collapsing far from its intentions and into the most crass version of a recruitment tool targeting the easily influenced.

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