Some minor spoilers here**********************************
Against the backdrop of the magnificent African landscape, Tears of the Sun is an honest effort to be more than an average Hollywood war movie.
There is nothing exceptional about the story line which, based on a rescue mission mixed with the usual ingredients of betrayal and political intrigue, looks very much like a good old Panzer Blitz board game scenario, in which the victory condition is to make it to home base with your rescue while sustaining minimum casualty.
The battle scens are above average, particularly the first one. Infuriated by the senseless cruelty he has witnessed, Lieutenant A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis)ignors the rules of engagement given to him and, declaring that "we are already engaged", leads an assault on the bloodthirsty enemy. This series is filmed with striking clarity. Unlike in many other battle scenes, the audience, instead of getting lost, are able to follow every signal, every move and every shot of Waters and his soldiers.
Tears of the Sun, however, is first and foremost not a war movie, although towards the end, it gives sufficient footage to action to probably satisfy an average audience's expectation. More interesting to watch, however, is the evolution of the two persona: unflinchingly professional soldier and compassionate woman doctor.
Of the latter, there is not much evolution to speak of and therefore not much room to maneuver, in the acting department. Monica Bellucci, under the circumstances, gave a creditable performance. A little distracting perhaps is her beauty which, although a far cry from her capitulating radiance in Brotherhood of the Wolf, is nevertheless not totally suppressible even under the stress of war.
As everyone knows I'm a big Bruce Willis fan. Tears of the Sun gives him scope beyond falling into the cliche of a stereotyped tough-guy who suddenly, inexplicably finds her heart. It does start a little bit like that as Willis, professional soldier to his bones, goes to the extent of tricking the entire group of refugees into trekking all the way to the pick-up point, just to be abandoned when his mission of rescuing the doctor is accomplished.
But he changes, and the question is what has caused this change. The simple answer obviously is his witnessing from the helicopter the vicious slaughter in the village from which he has just rescued the doctor. But this would be too simple. Confronted by his comrades, his answer to the question is "I'll tell you when I've figured it out". This is not evasion. We do not always understand the rationale behind everything we do, every decision we make.
Then come the climax. A treachery is exposed but the pursuing army is closing in. We have another very familiar scenes, of "are-you-with-me-boys". The audience will notice in this scene an uncharacteristic lack of heroism. There is nothing particularly heroic above developing a certain bond with a group of strangers after spending a few days with them, even in normal daily situations: a training course, a group tour, for example. Here, the script has given a lot of attention to what the soldiers share with the refugees during their flight, and the atrocity they witness together. As a result, their solidarity in standing firm in the face of the crisis is totally believable.
Under Willis' portrayal, Lieutenant Waters is uncharacteristic soft spoken. Also, there is neither explosive outburst nor hysterical breakdown, both of which are quite appealing for the sake of dramatization. What we see here is a man whose professional training hold up. In addition, we also see behind the soldier persona a soft-spoken man who has moments of weakness, who can become quite dejected, a believable human being.
Tears of the Sun is an honest effort to show, within the framework of a Hollywood war movie, the positive side of human nature. Hopefully, under the current environment of a war that the world does not want, this well-intentioned film itself won't becomes a victim of being sterotyped as Hollywood propaganda as time goes on.