Wednesday, September 30, 2015

CRACKER? Tears of the Sun (2003)

                “Tears of the Sun” is a Bruce Willis action war film.  It was directed by Antoine Fuqua (“King Arthur”).  It was made by Willis’ production company for an astounding $100 million.  It did not cover its cost and got mixed reviews.  Willis and Fuqua did not get along during the filming and have vowed to never work together again.  The movie got substantial support from the Pentagon which allowed the first use of a nuclear aircraft carrier (the U.S.S. Harry S Truman) for a movie filming.  The cast included actual African refugees living in the U.S. 

                The movie is set in civil war torn Nigeria.  A recent coup has resulted in ethnic cleansing.  “Somewhere off the coast of Africa” lurks the USS Harry S Truman.  The U.S. government actually takes notice of the chaos and orders a Navy SEAL team to extract a doctor, some nurses, and a priest.  The eight man unit is led by Lt. Waters (Willis) and the over/under for survivors is four.  When they reach the refugee camp, the feisty Dr. Kendricks (Monica Bellucci) refuses to leave the natives.  A grumbling Waters agrees to take them to the egress site.  The priest and nuns insist on staying with the wounded.  When the priest tells Waters to “go with God”, Waters responds with “God already left Africa”.  Waters and Kendricks get off on the wrong foot.  If this was a romantic comedy, they would be married by the end.  Since this is a war movie, they will respect each other by the end (with future marriage a possibility).  When they reach the chopper, Waters throws Kendricks on board and leaves the natives behind – psyche!  If looks could kill.  But mission accomplished.  Man, that was a short movie.  But wait…  On the way back to the carrier, they pass over the refugee camp which has obviously been the scene of a massacre.  This melts Waters' heart and Willis realizes that he does not have a commercially viable movie unless the mission is expanded to include rescuing the abandoned refugees.  “It’s been so long since I’ve done a good thing.”  Apparently Waters does not consider killing bad guys to be a good thing.
Group shot of actors playing soldiers

                The movie now becomes a “valley of death” film as the group is stalked by the rebels.  The usual tropes are thrown in.  Maverick leader bucking higher authority.  Someone in the group is helping the rebels.  One of the refugees has a secret identity (but this ends up being a nice twist).  Bonding with the natives as hardened warriors are humanized.  Questioning of command decisions.  To keep the action junkies happy, there is a stop-over at a village to kick some rapiner ass.  It’s worth the wait as we get some great SEAL-type bloodletting.  So far betting the under is looking good, but that is about to change.  When Waters gets the obligatory reminder of his original orders, he explains to the denser members of the audience that “I broke my own rule, I started to give a f***.”  The movie is now “Von Ryan’s Express” without the train.  But with a huge explosion courtesy of F-18 Hornet fighter jets.  USA!!  The over/under ends up being a push.  I’ll leave it up to you to guess whether Willis had the balls of Sinatra.  Don’t bother guessing whether the natives reached safety.

Be careful when you wake up Bruce Willis
                “Tears of the Sun” was better than I expected.  It does not break any new ground and is totally predictable, but it is efficiently entertaining.  There is plenty of action and lots of ammo expenditure enhanced by not having to reload.  The deaths are realistic and sometimes graphic.  The chasing element adds suspense and the catching element adds gratuitous violence.  The score does a good job setting the mood and the cinematography is masterful considering the jungle foliage.  The dialogue is terse and there is no speechifying.  The cast is testosterone-laden, but not Cro-magnon.  The SEALs are “hey, yous” as 90% of the budget probably went to Willis’ salary.  When your second-bill is Cole Hauser (“Siege of Firebase Gloria”), you better have a lot of distractions.  The acting is fine in spite of this.  Willis is Willis and the others are appealing.  There is a little dysfunction, but no one turns out to be a jerk.  All the villainy is ladled onto the African rebels.  Kendricks is a strong female character and Bellucci (soon to be the oldest Bond girl ever) holds her own.
She'll probably look better than this in the new Bond movie

After seeing the movie, it is a bit surprising that it did not do well at the box office.  You could see where the film was Hollywood’s answer to our government’s lack of intervention in African genocide.  Sadly, the American public was apparently not interested in cinematic intervention either.  It’s not a bad time-killer and is not totally a mindless guy movie.  There have been much worse in this subgenre in this century.



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