TEARS OF THE SUN works as a tense, exciting actioner until the finale, which unfortunately is so over-the-top that it undercuts the acceptable implausibility of what went before, finishing into cookie-cutter audience pandering. Too bad, as most of it is quite good. As such, another expensive thriller that tanked, both with critics (so what?) and the box-office (where counting counts). Director Antoine Fuqua, star Bruce Willis & crew deliver, though, which is more than enough for fans to lock trigger-thumb in the up position.*
Military coup in Nigeria sends the country into bloody turmoil (or bloodier turmoil than usual), and the U.S. (ever-thoughtful) sends in a Navy SEALS squad to rescue some foreign nationals who will almost certainly be massacred by the advancing rebel troops. ‘Lt. A.K. Waters’ (Willis) leads the team to extract ‘Dr. Lena Kendricks’ (Monica Belluci). After witnessing some ethnic cleansing, Waters and his six men (The Magnificent Seven formula) make the crucial decision to try and take out Kendrick’s helpless, unarmed patients/refugees, even as an overwhelming force is hot on their heels in a run through the jungle to the Cameroon border.
Bring plenty of ammo (don’t worry, it doesn’t run out) and steely determination. Weed out a traitor, mow down those murderers, hope the air strike arrives in time (they damn well better, considering one of those jets cost more than a theater full of suckers earn in a collective lifetime), save wimpish discussions about whose oil belongs to which group of exploiters for a depressing documentary no-one will bother to watch.
Atmosphere soaks in via Mauro Fiore’s plush cinematography, shooting in Hawaii, on O’ahu, and a quivering Afro-accented music score from Hans Zimmer. Willis is on his game in tight-lipped mode as the honcho, the compelling Belluci makes what she can of an underwritten part, and there are effective supporting performances all round. Particularly telling are Cole Hauser (nice to be a good guy for once), Eamonn Walker and Akosua Busia, with imposing threats handled by Peter Menseh (badass bad guy #2) and Malick Bowens (the cruel rebel leader, a far cry from his kind houseman in Out Of Africa). Several of the bit players had been refugees from various horrific African conflicts.
The centerpiece action sequence—the SEALs lethal teamwork decimating enemy soldiers in the midst of conducting the brutal slaughter of a village—is gripping, and appropriately serious, at least offering some avenge-catharsis when the rapist-torturers get what’s coming. Then, the final battle relies overmuch on wishful thinking, as does the too-easy communications business (jungle canopy and surrounding mountains apparently not an issue when disputing direct orders from aircraft carrier), items the script tries to carry off by sheer momentum. Realism carps aside, the heavy lifting is then left to the actors, the settings and the overall intensity: those elements are all on target.
Costing something like $100,500,000, in 2003 it lagged at 57th place in the States (probably would help if geography-vacant homegrown audience knew where Nigeria is), with a crushing global take of just $86,500,000.
With Johnny Messner, Tom Skerritt, Paul Francis, Nick Chunlund, Charles Ingram, Chad Smith, Fionnula Flanagan and the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman. Written by Alex Lasker (Beyond Rangoon) and Patrick Cerillo. 121 minutes.
* Notably, throughout the physically arduous production, Fuqua and Willis clashed over interpretation. Bruce, 47, star clout in firing position, pushed for more heroic stuff and hopefully some way to work in a chance to make out with Monica—dude may be shameless but in this regard is blameless. Antoine favored grit, as in his big hit Training Day: in Fuqua flicks ‘look’, visceral feel and impact tough it out against logic and likelihood. Some work well—Training Day, this picture, King Arthur. Others flame out, witness Brooklyn’s Finest, Olympus Has Fallen, The Magnificent Seven. The ‘Director’s Extended Cut’ of Tears Of The Sun runs 21 minutes longer.