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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
Tears of the Sun (2003)
1 Stars

Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci, Cole Hauser, Johnny Messner, Nick Chinlund, Tom Skerritt, Akosua Busia, Eamonn Walker, Chad Smith, Fionnula Flanagan, Malick Bowens
2003 – 118 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong war violence and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, March 7, 2003.

Ironic, how "Tears of the Sun" is occasionally so dark that the action and characters appear as nothing but obscure shadows. Ironic, too, that a motion picture with such a poetic title isn't poetic in the faintest. One part unconvincing, jingoistic war picture and one part melodramatic, preachy hogwash, "Tears of the Sun" is a slow-paced slog that adds up to not much more than a sour taste in the viewer's mouth.

Muslim rebels have assassinated the President and his family, and gone on a killing spree through the war-torn countryside of Nigeria. Such a set-up, which reminds of the current political waters in Iraq, may or may not prove beneficial to the film's box-office receipts, although its overly sincere and often ludicrous particulars certainly won't be helping matters.

To aid in rescuing Dr. Lena Hendricks (Monica Bellucci), an American stationed in harm's way, Captain Bill Rhodes (Tom Skerritt) enlists his Navy Seals platoon, headed by no-nonsense Lt. A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis), to get the job done. While Lena is quickly located, she refuses to leave without taking all of the refugees from her mission with her. Waters balks at first, but after witnessing first-hand the savagery at work within the rebels, agrees to lead a dangerous trek across the Nigerian jungles to safety at the Cameroon border.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua (2001's "Training Day"), "Tears of the Sun" is unconvincing in nearly every way. Its moral, which is spelled out for audiences in a title card at the end, states, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for a good man to do nothing." While such a notion is all well and good, the movie bypasses subtlety in storytelling in favor of hammering home the point with undeserved mawkish sentiment.

It doesn't help that screenwriters Alex Lasker and Patrick Cirillo proven entirely inept at establishing and developing its characters. Were the viewer able to care about the people involved in the story, the syrupy final act might have held more resonance. As it is, protagonists Lt. A.K. Waters and Dr. Lena Hendricks are one-note ciphers whose backgrounds are completely neglected in favor of a whole lot of wordless wandering in the jungle. Additionally, cinematographer Mauro Fiore (2001's "Driven") apparently carried out his job with a busted camera bulb and no additional lighting equipment. The goings-on in the first half are almost incomprehensible within their needlessly dim surroundings.

In his second inauspicious war picture in a row, Bruce Willis (2002's "Hart's War") should think about finding a different genre to work in. His A.K. Waters is paper-thin, and Willis is so uninspired as to almost feel like an extra rather than a lead performer. As. Dr. Lena Hendricks, let's just say Monica Bellucci is every bit Willis' equal. As for poor Tom Skerritt (2001's "Texas Rangers"), he literally phones in his performance atop the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman while endless aircraft carriers hilariously fly by on every shot, threatening to drown out his dialogue.

If nothing notable occurs in the first 90 minutes of "Tears of the Sun," then the final half-hour is a "been-there-done-that" battle sequence that succumbs into shameless bottom-feeding and a happy ending that can't be bought for a second. If there is a compliment to be given, it goes to Hans Zimmer's lusciously exuberant music score. The catch is that it isn't far removed from Zimmer's score for 1994's "The Lion King," a family film infinitely more intelligent and existential in any five-minute section than "Tears of the Sun" offers in its whole.
© 2003 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman