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Tears of the Sun (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: One

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director's commentary; Writer's commentary. 8 deleted scenes; Africa fact track; 2 featurettes; Interactive map of Africa; Filmographies; Trailers.

Hollywood’s decision to tackle sensitive subjects, such as current world affairs, can frequently feel as heavy-handed and misguided as America’s foreign policy itself, as the line between reality and fiction (or spin, for want of a better word) increasingly becomes blurred.

There is a certain core of film-makers who appear to want to go to extreme lengths to play up the notion of patriotism and heroism, particularly post 9/11, that frequently threatens to undermine the dramatic weight and impact of the situation they are depicting.

Tears of the Sun is exactly that type of movie; a war film that consistently booby-traps itself because of its gung-ho, jingoistic approach to its subject matter.

It concludes with the Edmund Burke quote, ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’, by which time the more discerning viewer will more than likely have had their fill of such over-wrought sentimentality.

What’s worse, is that the film is the latest from Antoine Fuqua, who so excelled with Training Day, but who gets lost, here, amid the jungle his heroes find themselves in.

Bruce Willis stars as Navy SEAL Lieutenant AK Waters, who leads an elite squad of tactical specialists on a routine mission to retrieve a Doctors Without Borders physician (Monica Bellucci’s Dr Lena Kendricks), from an unstable Catholic mission in the jungles of war-torn Nigeria, which is currently in a state of collapse following a coup by a blood-thirsty dictator.

But he is quickly forced to choose between following orders, by ignoring the conflict surrounding him, or following his conscience and protecting a group of innocent refugees, by leading them to political asylum at the nearby border - a choice which becomes more pronounced when it is revealed that the sole survivor of the country’s previous ruling family is hiding out among them.

What begins promisingly, however, quickly degenerates into a bog-standard race against time scenario, in which the soldiers’ nobility is pushed to the limit in the face of the numerous atrocities that are all too frequently and all too graphically placed before them.

And while much of the brutality depicted on-screen undoubtedly goes on in the world, it is the black and white approach of the film-makers that virtually negates its impact, reducing some scenes to a laughing stock. Hence, the American soldiers represent all that is good, and the Nigerian militia represent all that is evil, and there is no middle ground.

A token recognition of the fact that the Nigerian militia has probably been armed by the Americans in the first place is begrudgingly included in the first few minutes, while the soldiers attempt to atone for their ‘past sins’ by disobeying orders and leading their refugees to safety, no matter what the cost to themselves.

Such moments become lost, however, amid the stifling self-righteousness of the movie, particularly during its second half, when audiences aren’t really allowed to form their own opinion, rather than have the film’s message rammed down their throats.

A sequence, midway through, in which Willis leads his men into a village that is in the midst of being raped and pillaged, is truly harrowing, yet its impact is softened by what follows, as the soldiers get to make their ‘do-or-die’ speeches before sacrificing themselves gloriously on the battlefield for God and country.

Hence, Fuqua drifts from the graphic realism of war films such as Apocalypse Now and The Thin Red Line, to the nobility of Three Kings’ final moments, before crashing into the type of single-handed gung-ho heroics that Rambo or John Wayne's The Green Berets would have been proud of.

It is a misguided attempt to offer some escapist hope to a nation still scarred from the effects of the real-life repercussions of the past two years; the reality of which there is no escaping from. Life is not quite as simple as the movies would suggest, and any attempt to portray it as such feels too close to home and, quite frankly, insulting.

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