Volume 96, Issue 84
Tuesday, March 11, 2003

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MOVIE REVIEW: Tears of the Sun

Bruce's schizophrenia

Tears of the Sun
Starring: Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci, Cole Hauser, Tom Skerritt
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua



By Brent Carpenter
Gazette Staff

Gazette file photo
SO TELL ME, DOCTOR - HOW DO YOU FIX AN AILING PLOT?
Brue Willis (right) as Lt. Waters and Monica Bellucci as Dr. Kendricks face off in Tears of the Sun.

Tears of the Sun is a well-shot and generally well-acted war flick, but unfortunately one with an identity crisis. Is it meant to be an action movie? A human drama? Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) doesn't seem too sure.

The movie spends the majority of its time straddling the line between overly-sentimental self-righteousness and technology-aided, balls-to-the-wall action. It has been marketed as an action film, but one gets the impression that those involved had higher hopes during production.

The movie draws obvious inspiration from other classic war movies like Platoon and Apocalypse Now. It characterizes the jungle as something simultaneously merciless and beautiful to behold. Along with cinematographer Mauro Fiore, Fuqua creates an environment so rich you can almost smell the scenery. But whereas the look of Platoon and Apocalypse helped to compliment the deep psychological undertones of each film, in Tears it merely functions as window dressing for a rather pedestrian story with one-dimensional characters and a surprisingly simple narrative.

Bruce Willis stars as Lieutenant A. K. Waters, a Special-Ops commander whose team is sent deep into the Nigerian jungle to rescue a nurse, two nuns and a priest before merciless anti-Christian rebels arrive at their compound. The nuns and the priest – ultimately too full of faith for their own earthly good – refuse to leave. Doctor Lena Hendricks (Monica Bellucci) initially refuses to leave as well, until Lt. Waters convinces her that "her people" – the wounded and sick Christian Nigerians – can come along.

Fortunately for the audience, by the last half-hour, the movie begins to accept itself for what it really is – a generic war movie – and delivers a kick-ass climax which carries none of the hollow pretensions that work against it during its first two thirds. It's all uphill after Willis utters the line, "It's time to cowboy the fuck up." Isn't that what George W. Bush said last week?

Modern war films in the hands of action directors tend to suck (see: Windtalkers, Pearl Harbor). Often they become so preachy that you can't help but roll your eyes when they ask to be taken seriously on a narrative level.

By gradually settling into the action film it should have been all along, Tears becomes a slick, entertaining action flick, rather than a boring, shallow mess of a war film. As far as performances go, Willis is in full-blown hero mode. Bellucci – Bridget Moynahan's competition for hottest woman on the planet – does what she can with the material, but the movie never asks her to do much other than look worried and stubborn, and keep her blouse unbuttoned.

Of Willis' marines, only Cole Hauser (as Atkins) really stands out, but that's more the fault of the story than of the actors themselves. In the end, the movie rids itself of its schizophrenia, lets go of its pretences and delivers Hollywood-style blockbuster action, which is the only reason it ultimately succeeds in entertaining.

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