Tears Of The Sun

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Whenever Hollywood decides to poke its nose into actual conflicts that rage around the globe, things can often get a little awkward. Sometimes we get movies like Hotel Rwanda that highlight the plight of those in peril in places far more dangerous than your local multiplex…. and sometimes we get movies like the fourth Rambo movie that, while certainly expressive, leave you feeling a little dirty as the actual suffering of innocent people end up being a backdrop to what amounts to little more than a well meaning, but otherwise tone deaf action movie.
This brings us to Tears Of The Sun; Bruce Willis’ 2003 effort to allow his permanently scowling features and a blazing machine gun to try and alleviate some of the tensions caused by the civil war in Nigeria.

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After a millitary coup d’etat causes chaos to reign in Nigeria, fighting, assassinations and ethnic enmity are all in full effect when Lieutenant A.K. Waters’ team of Navy SEALs is sent in to extract Dr. Lena Fiore Kendricks and her staff from a mission where they’ve been treating the vast amounts of people who have horrifically wounded in the fighting. However, on arrival, Waters finds that a simple in and out evacuation is completely out of the question when the willful Kendricks flat out refuses to leave unless the SEALs also evacuate any patients able to make the 12 kilometre hike to the evac chopper and after a quick conference with his superior officer, the lieutenant agrees.
However, during the journey, Waters and his men are increasingly annoyed that the refugees just aren’t able to keep up the necessary pace and worry that the bloodthirsty rebels will eventually catch up.
All the way, the gruff Lieutenant and the passionate Doctor engage in a battle of ideologies as she pits her desire to save lives no matter the cost agsinst his unbreakable nature of following orders to the letter, even if it means pulling some unsavory shit.
However, after he pulls a particularly callous move in order to see his mission through, Waters’ stoney facade starts to crack when he gets some first hand insight into what inhuman fate lays in wait for the refugees if they’re caught and chooses to belatedly turn the choppers around to give aid. There’s a catch, though: the choppers can only carry 12 people and the many left behind – including Waters and the majority of his team – have to make the journey to the Cameroonian border on foot.
As the rebels track them and get ever closer, Waters realizes that there are people among the refugees who aren’t who they claim to be and this might end up forcing the SEALs into making the ultimate sacrifice.

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While Tears Of The Sun certainly has its heart in the right place, the execution by director Antoine (Training Day) Fuqua and its script mean that it falls into many of the pitfalls that effect most action movies that attempt to plant themselves in a real world setting. For a start, the movie can’t help but flirt fairly heavily with white saviour tropes as Willis’ squinty-eyed SEAL suddenly decides to grow a conscience after witnessing the aftermath of the brutal cull of a village from the air. Why exactly he has this change of heart is never actually explored beyond the usual “I wanted to finally do a good thing” speech delivered in harsh tones – but you can’t help but wonder what exactly all these hardened, American soldiers actually thought was going on here in the first place. Another problem is that none of the Nigerian characters are given a chance to be anything more than one whimpering refugees or murderous rebels who’s personalities all display the dimension of a sheet of paper and any who are given lines only get them to move the plot along.
Bruce Willis may only hold that one single expression for the whole movie, but it’s served him well before and it serves him fairly well here, but Waters is a still strictly one-note hero leading a team of virtual identi-kit troops who you can only tell apart after everyone says their name after they get wounded and Monica Bellucci’s doctor is only required to scream or yell whenever she isn’t required to spell out the plight of refugees to the audience.
However, as forgettable as the characters may be, Fuqua can certainly stage a set piece and while a mid-film trawl through a massacred village is a borderline horror show of Rambo-esque proportions in order to give us first hand experience of the inhuman cruelty that’s going on, the final mad dash to the border is genuinely exciting as the final, mad rush to the border is peppered with bullets, RPGs, claymores and some well placed missiles that hint at the kinetic gun fights that ended some of the director’s future projects in a similar fashion.
The movie looks gorgeous and the emotions are helped along by yet another rousing score by Hans Zimmer, but the actual plot drops in random obstacles to seemingly up the stakes as if the plight of dozens of villagers simply wasn’t good enough and the appearance of a traitor in the midst of the refugees and the reveal of the son of the overthrown president is among their number weirdly cheapens the devastating earlier scenes of ethnic cleansing.

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Desperately trying to do good, yet inadvertently shooting itself in the foot thanks to frequent missteps (Willis getting the president’s son to take responsibility for his people by telling him to “Cowboy the fuck up” is particularly tin eared), Tears Of The Sin wants to have its realistic action movie cake and eat it, but despite some above and beyond scowling from its leading man, ultimately the sobering scenes of atrocities end up canceling out the legitimately thrilling action and vice versa.

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