Movie review by Greg Carlson
Aging action star Bruce Willis’ open support of the current Bush administration’s pro-military philosophy immediately indicates the underlying sensibilities of “Tears of the Sun,” a messy hybrid that attempts to fuse social consciousness with a glorification of gung-ho ass-kicking. Following in the footsteps of ex-wife Demi Moore, Willis plays Navy SEAL Lt. A.K. Waters, a tough, relentless warrior given to smearing camouflage greasepaint into every crag and cranny of his stony, square-jawed face. Short on words but long on muscle, Waters completes his missions with total commitment and zero emotion.
Sent by Captain Bill Rhodes (Tom Skerritt, who must by now have his own personal set of officer uniforms) into civil war-torn Nigeria to extract a humanitarian physician, as well as two nuns and a priest, Waters suffers one of those end-of-the-first-act crises of conscience that stirs him to abandon orders and protocol and risk himself and his loyal team of comrades in order to “do the right thing.” The right thing is embodied in the stubborn platitudes of Dr. Lena Kendricks (Monica Bellucci), the “critical personnel” Waters has been assigned to rescue. With injured patients in tow, Kendricks and Waters begin a treacherous hike through the jungle toward Cameroon.
Director Antoine Fuqua, whose “Training Day” really packed a punch, makes the most out of a dire script, alternating between suspenseful nighttime scenes and rain-soaked horrors made worse by the daylight. In fact, the most problematic aspect of “Tears of the Sun” is its bifurcated psychology: the atrocities that attend “ethnic cleansing” are superlatively vile and gruesome, but they only provide an excuse for Waters and his SEALs to rain down hell on the Nigerian baddies. One suspects that American audiences will take satisfaction in the SEAL squad’s superior training and firepower, but the propagandistic fantasia wears thin in short order.
Waters’ elite group of fighters, mostly indistinguishable from one another except for Atkins (Cole Hauser) and Pettigrew (Eamonn Walker), serve the traditional function of grunts in combat films – ripe for the picking off, the inevitability of several deaths is a foregone conclusion. Nobody pulls out a picture of his wife, but anyone who has seen a war movie will get the idea. Composer Hans Zimmer even cribs Barber’s Adagio when a shot eerily reminiscent of “Platoon” sweeps upwards to show hordes of enemies closing in on the outnumbered heroes.
“Tears of the Sun” lacks both depth and credibility when it comes to Kendricks and her throng of beleaguered followers. The Nigerians on both sides of the civil conflict are treated as two-dimensional, and a “surprise” twist that takes place well into the action borders on offensive stereotype. Bellucci, presumably cast as much for her beauty as for any acting ability, is saddled with dialogue in which she constantly barks about her “people” needing to rest, while Waters counters with his own orders to “keep moving.” Once you’ve heard the umpteenth variation on this dialogue, you’ll be as anxious to leave Nigeria as the surviving SEALs.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 3/10/03.