Willis sheds some heroic Tears of the Sun

Preview by Jack Foley

ONE day after celebrating Denzel Washington's Oscar success for Training Day, director, Antoine Fuqua, was back behind the camera for his latest, Tears of the Sun, about a team of Navy SEALs (led by Bruce Willis) who are dropped into the Nigerian jungle on a search-and-rescue mission.

The rescue in question concerns Monica Bellucci's volunteer doctor, an honest do-gooder caught in the crisis zone during a bloody coup, who refuses to leave unless her patients can go with her. Cue much emotional wrestling, as the by-the-book Willis opts to ignore his orders and lead the camp on a daring escape mission. As the poster states: 'He was trained to follow orders; he became a hero by ignoring them'.

To make matters worse, however, the soul surviving heir of the murdered rulers is hiding out among the refugees, and is being hunted down at all costs - raising the stakes as Willis bids to atone for past failures by doing the right thing.

Needless to say, all the elements are in place for much macho-posturing and for Willis to do what he does best - run around blowing people away.

But Fuqua has promised that Tears of the Sun is far more than just a mindless killing machine, as it concerns itself with the plight of people in Africa and what is really going on out there.

In an interview with US magazine, Entertainment Weekly, he states that the production team brought in a supporting cast from Rwanda, Zaire and Sierra Leone to add authenticity, as well as the lost boys of Sudan, who found being on a movie 'like being on a fucking other planet'.

Bellucci, too, felt drawn to the movie's message, stating that, 'this is not an action flick where people are just killing each other. It's a drama about Africa, and not many people know what's going on over there'.

Fuqua had wanted to shoot the movie entirely on location, but due to the oppressive temperatures of filming in the jungle, was forced to switch locations to Hawaii, although he maintains that keeping the quality of his work as high as Training Day remained an over-riding concern.

Critics in America, however, have been less sure about the picture which has resulted, awarding it more negative reviews than positives when it opened in US cinemas on Friday, March 7....

The US critical reaction....

Entertainment Weekly gets the ball rolling by awarding it a B- and stating that 'in essence, this is Black Hawk Down with tidier circuitry, a broad, shallow fantasy of American intervention and omnipotence', and adding that 'the righteousness of Tears of the Sun would be more effective if the film weren't caught between realism and escapism, faux topicality and action dream. This may not be the best moment to make war look easier than it is'.

Nevertheless, it does applaud Fuqua's filmmaking technique, stating that he has clearly learned from the likes of Oliver Stone and Francis Ford Coppola in handling effective military action sequences, while also commending Willis for his awareness of the dangers which surround him.

Hollywood Reporter, meanwhile, stated that while 'Fuqua mixes the heroism, tears, and courage with enough taut suspense and action to appeal to male audiences of all ages', the 'movie's many emotional moments do wear thin, though'. It also begins its review by noting that 'as the president prepares the nation for war, the Bush administration could not have asked for a more beneficient combat movie than Tears of the Sun'.

Slightly more scathing was the Washington Post, which felt that the film should have been called 'Crocodile Tears of the Sun', while the Seattle Times opined that 'if it were better done, Tears would be offensive: the villains are evil, faceless, baby-murdering Muslims. But the movie is so shoddy and one-dimensional that it's just a dreary, predictably violent bore'.

Likewise, Hollywood.com, which felt that 'Tears of the Sun has some good moments, including the intense ambulatory trek out of Nigeria, but the blind patriotism we are spoon-fed towards the end makes this film a little hard to swallow'.

It seems that a nation currently preparing for the prospect of war with Iraq is finding such pro-military movies a little tiring, particularly off the back of last year's glut, which included Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers.

That said, the notices weren't all bad. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote: "At its best, it's a little hard to sit through. At its worst, it's like every other picture about soldiers on a tough mission. What pushes it above mediocrity is that it ends better than it begins."

And the Houston Chronicle stated that: "What's noteworthy is that Tears is simultaneously a gripping action tale and a plea for a policy of engagement, of humanitarian intervention, in parts of the world where oil is not at stake."

E! Online also felt that, 'despite a few moments of heavy-handed sentimentality, overall Tears of the Sun shines'.

But, in general, critics seemed obsessed with the film's attempts to pass comment on US foreign policy, taking exception to its depiction of the heroic military and its involvement in global politics.

The Los Angeles Times described it as 'handsomely made, well-meaning but finally frustrating and unsatisfying', adding that 'this perplexing film is an example of a previously unseen hybrid, the socially conscious, humanitarian action movie', while USA Today stated that 'the movie might have gotten a dramatic boost from its topical theme, indirect as it is. Unfortunately, it's not one-tenth as interesting as what you can see at home during a nightly cable surf as U.S. war policy is debated'.

Variety, meanwhile, felt that it is 'uninvolving, due to stick-figure characters and off-putting in its images of technology-enhanced Yanks striding like benevolent giants among helpless Third World victims'.

My personal favourite, however, remains the Flick Filosopher, which wittily summarised the film by posing the question, 'can’t we just send Bruce Willis to Iraq to make things right?'

Indielondon will deliver its verdict on the film when it opens in UK cinemas later this year.

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