“Tears of the Sun” has a few good scenes involving two Navy F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets blazing through the African sky. It is this movie’s finest moment, and much too brief it is. I have a thing for fighter jets, and I’ll always have a bias towards movies that use them. My skin still tingles whenever I watch the opening chase sequence from “Behind Enemy Lines.” But (unfortunately) like almost all movies, this one isn’t about those fighters. This story is told in the unforgiving wilderness on the ground where mud mixes with blood.
Lieutenant A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis) and his team have just arrived home from their most recent mission in Africa, but his commanding officer sends them back onto the helicopters. There new mission is a rescue operation, where Water’s team must evacuate a doctor, two nuns and a priest, all of whom are American, from a missionary hospital located near hostile territory.
The introduction to the story about the African rebels is told in unoriginal style. The reporter with a standard-issued English accent aboard the Navy carrier explains that the democratically elected royal family of Nigeria has been assassinated and they have been replaced by a brutal dictator. This despot has sent his rebel forces to burn every village and its people in their paths.
The subjects to be rescued are Dr. Hendricks ( Monica Bellucci), the priest and two nuns. When Waters and his team arrive, the priest and nuns seal their fate by refusing to leave, making it two less people for Waters and his team to get to the rally point. Not quite. Dr. Hendricks refuses to leave without her 20 patients. Waters can’t allow her to bring them; now we’ve got our first conflict. After a quick chat with the commander via cell phone, Waters has Hendricks gather all the refugees who can walk, and prepares them to leave the camp even though we’re not sure if this is really a rescue attempt for everybody, or just a way of getting the good doctor to come along.
The trek through the thick jungle and out of Nigeria is a highlight because of the magnificent scenery. Cinematographers, Mauro Fiore and Keith Solomon, stress the rich black and green colors that are either part of the face-paint or part of the jungle itself. When it is nighttime, and it usually is, we see very little, but we know who is there; where the refugees are hiding and where their pursuers are lurking.
The group must move quickly as they are being pursued by the militant rebels. There is a brief time when the movie is suspenseful, but that feeling is quickly buried every time the group stops to mourn a perishing village. There are a lot of gruesome details and images, accompanied by horrific screaming from the loved ones holding their dying family members in their arms. What a time this would have been for Waters and his team raise hell, but they only purposefully engage the rebels once. Most of the fighting and explosions come in the end.
At one point, the computer guy uses his hi-tech computer to inform Waters that the pursuing rebels are about one-hour behind them. This is because they have spent a lot of time resting while the rebels haven’t taken a single break. A sense of urgency is felt, but Antoine Fuqua (director) and Alex Laster (writer) don’t give us the chance to sweat. Normally we would, because they take so much time in rest to bury dead villagers and to blurt out repulsive dialogue. A good movie would have had the audience paying more attention to the pursuing rebels, but Fuqua was clearly going for shock value. If piles of dead bodies continually occupy the screen, we forget to say to ourselves, “Move! Time is running out,” as all good suspense movies make us talk to ourselves at one point.
The movie is visually impressive but the dialogue is absolutely horrible. I wanted to cover my ears every time someone began talking. Much of it was unconvincing sympathy expressions such as “I love you for this...God will always love you for this.” There is one black guy in the platoon, and it was only a matter of time before he told Waters, “These are my people...we are doing the right thing.” This is followed by a brotherly fist tap and glances of encouragement. At one point, Waters gives the justification speech for disobeying his commander by saying, “It's been so long since I've done a good thing--the right thing." One can only imagine what he and his troops have previously done in the name of America and for his commander despite Willis’s character in this movie showing no evidence of ever allowing innocent people to die while following orders.
As with “The Life of David Gale,” this movie fails justify its cause. Never mind that if the F-18 air support had come in the beginning, then there probably wouldn't have been a movie. What I’m getting at is that this film tries too hard to garner sympathy from the suffering Africans. If they aren’t crying or mourning a family member, they are giving Waters that puppy dog look that screams, “we are defenseless.” But the movie doesn’t scream “these people need to be saved any cost .” The movie lacks a lot of motivation that would have probably made their cause more justified. Most of the time Waters and his men have the bulls-eye painted on them, when they should be the ones behind he trigger.
But despite the many flaws, war-movie buffs will appreciate the moderate action as much as I drooled over the fighter jets. Willis gives a great performance as he usually does, and there are a lot of things to enjoy like the one time the soldiers get into sniping position to take out a band of rebels as they are destroying a village.
The moral question that inevitably comes to mind: Is it worth risking the lives the American soldiers to rescue the refugees? The answer to that depends on how much you agree with this quote that reads right before the ending credits, “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” After taking into account the events that take place from begging to end, I would have probably given this fight to ‘evil.’