Tears Of The Sun Movie Review
In the rose-colored military world of "Tears of the Sun," orders from superior officers are little more than suggestions and the mighty United States war machine always does the right and righteous thing.
When a team of Navy SEALS led by Bruce Willis is sent into the thickest jungles of war-torn Nigeria to extract a Western doctor (talented Italian beauty Monica Bellucci) from a missionary village, he's moved to break regulations and go back to rescue the civilians too. Otherwise they'll die at the hands of violent, ethnic-cleansing rapist rebels who are laying waste to the area and killing everyone in sight.
His commanding officer (Tom Skerritt) -- who spends all his time talking to Willis on a satellite phone, trying to hear over the roar of jet engines on an aircraft carrier flight deck -- barely shrugs his shoulders at Willis' insubordination. Even when Bellucci demands to tag along on a several-day trek through rebel territory to the nearest border, effectively scrubbing the soldiers' primary objective, the Navy higher-ups seem to take a laissez-faire attitude toward Willis and a civilian making up their own rules.
Bellucci ("Brotherhood of the Wolf," "Malena") keeps interfering with the rescue operation -- demanding time for people to rest when rebel soldiers are hot on their trail, not staying put in a safe place when she's told to by SEALS who are about to ambush said rebels. But little effort is made to set her straight and none of the soldiers get fed up with her. In fact, only one voices even the slightest doubt about risking their lives to get a random handful of poor villagers out of the country.
If the movie's message is that such selfless acts of heroism should be our military's status quo when it goes into hostile foreign countries, that's admirable. But if "Tears of the Sun" takes place in a fantasy world where the American military is that altruistic anyway -- albeit passively so at the command level -- then the point of such a message is lost.
In 1999's "Three Kings," an Army unit led by George Clooney disobeyed orders by helping civilians escape from Iraq. That film took place at the end of the Gulf War, after the first Bush administration encouraged such civilians to rise up against Saddam Hussein, then stood by as the dictator's armies slaughtered them and their families.
"Three Kings" had something to say about the self-serving double standards of American diplomacy, whereas "Tears of the Sun" is nothing but well-made action-movie propaganda with only simulated pseudo-substance.
Director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") brings sharpness and precision to the picture's compelling battle scenes. His finest moment is the small SEAL unit's angry, surgical-strike obliteration of a rebel soldier battalion that abruptly ends a torching, raping, killing rampage in a small village. It's action-packed but properly harrowing, and gratifyingly courageous without being afraid to show the men's raw emotions.
The film also looks fantastic, with rich nighttime cinematography that captures nuances of dark faces in even darker surroundings.
But "Tears" has a connect-the-dots screenplay (by Alex Lasker and Patrick Cirillo) in which even "surprises" happen right on cue: The company's point-man thinks he hears something rustling in some tall grass. He signals for everyone to get down as the musical tension rises dramatically. Then a wild pig emerges from the grass, a sigh of relief is breathed, he gives the all-clear, rises up, and -- do I even have to tell you what happens next?
Willis gives a reliable performance as the SEAL unit's leader, whose rebuff of the rules of engagement comes at a point where he's just seen too much bloodshed to stand aside any longer. But Fuqua fails to seize on that sentiment, which should be what drives the movie's emotional core. Not that there'd be much point since Willis's superiors don't seem to care if he follows orders or not.
Eamonn Walker (Muslim inmate Kareen Said on HBO's "Oz") is the movie's only other standout as Willis's second-in-command, if only because his intensity distinguishes him from the rest of the under-developed, Boy-Scout valiant platoon characters.
If the real US government and military had the conscience of the grunts in this movie, we'd have a lot fewer enemies in the world. But the film's patronizing finale -- grateful Africans doing happy tribal dances as a little boy tearfully waves to their Great White Savior's departing helicopter -- says more about the movie's (and America's) ethno-centric politics than I ever could.