TEARS OF THE SUN
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci, Cole Hauser, Johnny Messner, Tom Skerritt
MPAA Rating: (for strong war violence, some brutality and language)
Running Time: 1:58
Release Date: 3/7/03
Review by Mark Dujsik
With the United States seemingly on the verge of going to war against Iraq, the release of Tears of the Sun is about as timely as they come. It's nearly impossible to watch the film without thinking of our current political climate and contemplating whether or not the United States should get involved in the internal affairs of state of foreign countries and also whether or not the movie accurately, fairly, or realistically depicts the process and concerns of such a military action. For about three-quarters of its length, Tears of the Sun seems to have more relevance and intelligence than it may have had a year ago, and I may have found the film more entertaining and worthwhile now than I would have then as well. Once the movie tries to resolve its plot in the most hopeful way possible, though, it becomes intrinsically false and unjustly simplified, and yet I think even that is important for people to discover and contemplate. The movie has a clear statement, but as it moves toward revealing that message, it at least gives us reason to second-guess what it has to say.
Rebel forces in Nigeria are slowly taking
over. There are
still Americans in the country, and the heightened conflict could prove deadly
to them. Lt. A.K. Waters (Bruce
Willis) and a group of Navy S.E.A.L.s are called in to rescue Lena Hendricks
(Monica Bellucci), a doctor in charge of a mission, along with the priest and
two nuns that work with her. They
find her with no problem, but
The problem is that the presidential family has been murdered, and the situation has escalated too high to bring in any more helicopters. So Waters and his team must trek to the border on their own resources. The movie wisely gets right into the mission and doesn't attempt to tease us with any extraneous attempt at character development. Despite what one might think, that's a virtue in this case, since any such attempt will ultimately lead nowhere. What little character setup there is comes out through the decisions the central characters make. The screenplay by Alex Lasker and Patrick Cirillo starts off fairly intelligent. In fact, all the through the exposition, the inciting action, and the majority of the plot development, Lasker and Cirillo paint a rather complicated moral and political portrait of the backdrop for an action movie. There's one plot turn, though, that involves the possible future of democracy in Nigeria that starts the movie in a different direction. From then on through the climax and denouement, the movie sets itself up for and carries out a far too optimistic and clean-cut ending.
At this point, whatever political or moral questioning we may be experiencing is tossed aside, because the script sets itself up for an easy, cut and dried way out. There's no question that what Waters and his team have done is justified. In reality, such scenarios aren't so simple. The future leadership isn't as clear. The movie also forgets or ignores what will happen afterwards. This kind of coup d'état is sure to happen again, and once it does, it most definitely won't be as easily diffused. The film's message is summarized in the end by a quote from Edmund Burke: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." It's a nice sentiment, but most of the time, things are too complicated for that kind of reasoning. The movie explores that reality occasionally, like in an episode involving a traitor to the group who has turned so to protect his family. It's a bad thing that he has done, but he isn't an evil person.I'm ultimately recommending Tears of the Sun and notably its first three-quarters, because even with its oversimplified and falsely optimistic ending, the film hits upon an issue people need to start exploring. On a more basic level, though, it is an action movie, and on that level, it goes above and beyond what's necessary with the presentation of its moral quandary. Antoine Fuqua is demonstrating himself to be a director with genuine concerns. Training Day confronted police corruption. And now at a time when the United States is prepared to go to war against a dictator partially under the precept of humanitarianism, he seems to be asking, if we're prepared to help the people of Iraq, then why not the people of many African countries suffering under similar leadership?
Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.