Tears of the Sun (2003) Movie Review

Africa is a continent trapped in constant turmoil, and it’s not altogether surprising that there hasn’t been a movie that’s attempted to shed light on the causes. (At least I am ignorant of the existence of such movies.) “Tears of the Sun”, while it doesn’t completely address the situation in Africa, is nevertheless one of the first movies to look at the chaos that’s consumed tens of millions of African lives in a series of civil wars and ethnic cleansing that would make the Nazis blush.

Less a War Movie than human drama about good men and women trying to make their way in an evil world beyond their control, “Sun” stars Bruce Willis as A.K. Waters, the head of a special operations unit sent into warring Nigeria to evacuate an American doctor. Like “Black hawk Down”, which deals with Americans fighting in a turbulent African country, “Sun” risks being labeled racist. This risk, ironically, is probably the biggest reason why films about Africa’s murderous dictators and regimes have failed to see the light. As a result, many world citizens remain ignorant of the problem. (And let’s face it, much of the world “learns” from movies, unfortunately.)

As the star of “Sun”, Bruce Willis (“Unbreakable”) is in prime form, playing a stoic soldier who has lived his life one mission at a time, and who has come to rely on his objective rather than his heart. The small band that makes up Waters’ loyal men are well defined, and each men seem to have their own reasons to want to do good even though the odds are clearly stacked against them. Monica Belluci (“Irreversible”) is Lena Kendricks, a Doctor who Waters is sent into warring Nigeria to extract before rebel forces can descend on the village she’s helping. When Lena refuses to leave without the villagers, she forces Waters to take everyone along with them.

But it’s soon obvious that Waters has lied to Lena, and he promptly sends her on a helicopter to safety, leaving the villagers behind. While flying across the countryside, they come across a village that has been massacred by rebel forces. It’s then that Waters makes the fateful decision to, for once in his life, disobey a direct order and try to do some good. Waters decides to go back to the abandoned villagers and escort them to the safety of neighboring Cameroon, even as hundreds of rebel forces close in on them.

The pacing of “Tears of the Sun” takes a little getting used to, especially for those used to watching War Movies. There is very little action in the film’s first 40 minutes, and Waters and his men don’t actually engage the enemy until they stumble onto the middle of a village massacre and decide to intercede. The film features one big action set piece toward the end, when the rebels surround Waters and attack. But it’s the brutal house-to-house fight in the village massacre scene that is the most intense and brutal of the entire film.

“Tears of the Sun” is first and foremost a movie, which may explain why it makes broad statements about the situation in Africa. But it also manages to remain very personnel because director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) has shot much of the film in tight close-ups. Bruce Willis’ grizzled face has never looked more intense or full of unrealized emotion. Fuqua uses the technique for the rest of his cast, including Monica Belluci’s fiery and compassionate face; the calculating smirk of Cole Hauser (“Pitch Black”), playing Waters’ second in command; and the knowing eyes of Zee (Eamonn Walker), a black commando who has the most at stake in the fight.

If there is one big fault with the screenplay by Alex Lasker and Patrick Cirillo it’s that they lay the sentimentalism on a little too thick. There is a twist toward the end that works and explains why the rebels are so determined to catch up to the people Waters is protecting, but the script could have used more constructive dialogue about the situation in Africa. Also, where are the questions about the involvement of the American Government? One character mentions that the reason the rebels have the power to go on their killing spree is because America as been supplying them with weapons for too long. I would have liked to see this expanded upon, but alas it’s cast aside in favor of gunfire.

“Tears of the Sun” is a movie that needs a critical script to back up its excellent cast and powerful performances. More should have been made about the role of American involvement, rather pro or con, and the failure of the world community to address the bloody problems on the African continent. As it stands now, “Sun” is a good movie, but it could have been much better.

Antoine Fuqua (director) / Alex Lasker, Patrick Cirillo (screenplay)
CAST: Bruce Willis …. Lt. A.K. Waters
Monica Bellucci …. Dr. Lena Fiore Kendricks
Cole Hauser …. James “Red” Atkins
Eamonn Walker …. Ellis “Zee” Pettigrew
Johnny Messner …. Kelly Lake

Buy Tears of the Sun on DVD