by Brian McKay
TEARS OF THE SUN is nothing you haven't seen already, if you've seen the likes of THREE KINGS or BLACKHAWK DOWN. Of course, if you liked those films, then you won't find this one a waste of time either. It probably couldn't have been released at a worse time, with everyone jumping onto the "No War in Iraq" bandwagon right about now. But then, this isn't so much a war movie as a film about a moral dilemma.When Nigerian rebels take over the country and begin a campaign of ethnic cleansing, Lt. Waters (Bruce Willis) and his SEALS team are dropped into the bush to recover a prominent American doctor, Lena Hendricks (Monica Belluci, who still manages to look like The Hottest Woman in the World beneath layers of sweat, grime, and blood). The doctor, who is providing medical care for a small Nigerian village, naturally refuses to leave unless her people are also escorted to safety.
"Not an outstanding military drama, but a competent one"
Waters agrees to take the village along, or at least the ones who are healthy enough to walk. However, when they reach the extraction zone, he forces Hendricks to board the chopper and keeps the villagers back at gunpoint. Over her screaming and kicking, he and his men board the Seahawks for the trip home. Mission accomplished, right?
Er, not exactly. When they fly over the village they had left behind the day before, they see it in ruins, with the bodies of those they left behind scattered about (get used to seeing refugee bodies stacked like cordwood in this film). In a fit of conscience, Waters violates his own first rule (to "not give a fuck" about anything but accomplishing the mission) and orders the birds to turn around. They send the children and elderly back on the choppers and stay behind to escort the rest of the able-bodied refugees to the relative safety of the border - with several hundred rebel troops coming up behind them.
It's a simplistic little tale, but an effective one, and thankfully without an overabundance of moralizing or expository conversation. The scenes of ethnic cleansing are fairly harrowing, the emotional money shots are sometimes moving when they're not too manipulative, and the battle scenes, while sparse (there are only two), still manage to elevate the pulse. Unfortunately, most of the characters are poorly developed, especially the squad who we only really began to care about moments before they start dying off. And granted, any real world consequences beyond immediate life or death are either not mentioned or merely brushed aside (Like the fact that Waters would be court-martialed in a heartbeat for disobeying orders, risking additional American lives, and causing an international incident). While there are the usual overwrought scenes of emotion at the finale', with refugees promising "We will never forget you" and the tired convention of all the surviving main characters looking around at each other long enough to exchange a reaffirming nod or smile, at least it manages to give closure without tacking on a romantic relationship between Waters and Hendricks (Don't forget to come visit me in the stockade, baby!).Compared to some of its predecessors, like the aforementioned THREE KINGS, the film is a completely mirthless affair. But to its credit, it never turns into the numbing and excessive shrapnel-fest of a BLACKHAWK DOWN, either. TEARS OF THE SUN is not a great film, but it is a passing good film about good men who choose to do something, rather than stand by and let evil prevail. Willis' gruff portrayal of the seasoned vet with the cold, empty stare is a bit of a cliche', but never a tired one.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=7140&reviewer=258
originally posted: 03/10/03 10:58:02