Tears of the Sun Reviews
Without giving viewers all that much context, Tears of the Sun leaps straight into its story. However, this just means that viewers will realize even quicker that there is hardly much of one in the film. Tears of the Sun lays out a generic story in a Nigerian context, dragging audiences through overly familiar war themes which come off as tedious attempts at sentimentality. As much as I am a sucker for a good war film, Tears of the Sun most simply does not fit that criteria
Tears of the Sun attempts to bring the attention of viewers to the events of the Nigerian civil war, and admittedly I didn't know there was one prior to seeing the film. It's clear from this that Antoine Fuqua has the best intentions with his film, and casting actual African refugees to portray extras supports this notion while boasting the legitimate nature of the film. However, viewers are unlikely to be moved by the film as it is so dramatically distant that after having experienced the entire film I didn't feel like I had watched anything. Most of the "horrors" depicted in Tears of the Sun are simply people suffering in silence captured in slow motion, a trope established by countless war films prior such as in Oliver Stone's Academy Award winning Platoon (1986). Turning the unexplored context of the film into a repetitive drama which has been seen countless times before effectively turns Tears of the Sun into both a misfire and a key example of wasted potential, as well as money.
To make matters worse, the action in Tears of the Sun does not actually begin until past 50 minutes in. By that point, viewers have been dragged through a long quantity of tedious plotting. The action scenes in Tears of the Sun are the best scenes in the film, but they are still not enough to elevate the film beyond its mediocrity. To begin with, there are too few of them spread out over the course of the narrative. And as well as that, there is a feeling that they have all been seen before. The action is staged very conventionally with little innovation in terms of what actual action is occurring or how it is depicted. The film limits its scope to a small group of select characters and captures them all with A-grade production values yet a B-movie cinematography style in which there is predominantly an oscillation between wide angle shots and close ups with few clever techniques. For a film with such a large budget, the actual style of the action scenes feels too simplistic and fails to elevate the tragedy of the story to its intended heights. The colour scheme is also oddly bleak, casting an abundance of grey over the entire visual field with the intention of adding atmosphere but rather just making the visual experience all the more dull. But I will admit that these scenes remain intense and use the production design and scenery to maximum effect, creating a real feeling of warfare. Alas, it just makes it all the more disappointing when there are so few of these scenes in the film. Tears of the Sun managed to skyrocket its budget to beyond $100 million and yet it churned out such a minimal experience in terms of style, even though Antoine Fuqua clearly has a sense of imagery. If Tears of the Sun desired to be a good action movie then it should have implored a greater focus on warfare, and it would have made a lot more sense because the screenplay hints that it has the desire to transcend this yet the quality of the dialogue and actual story proves otherwise. Instead, viewers are simply left to be repeatedly hit over the head by the same messages about how war is a terrible thing again and again at a slow pace for a running time which stretches its limited material way too far.
Tears of the Sun is a film which offers a generic contract of Bruce Willis' status as an action hero and Antoine Fuqua's recognition for creating strong action scenes in the context of a war movie where the promotional material boasts Bruce Willis grasping a weapon. However, in spirit of the same faults the director would adhere to when he put together The Equalizer (2014) many years later, Tears of the Sun offers a sporadic collection of stylish violence which is too sporadic to fulfil its implied promises.
However, Bruce Willis remains as solid as ever. Though the man has a great status as an action hero, Tears of the Sun proves to be a chance for him to branch out. The limitations of the material stand in the way of him achieving anything groundbreaking, but his natural talent as an actor is surely an asset for the film. For one thing, his abilities in using weaponry make him an easily engaging soldier during the action scenes of the film. Yet since there are so few of those, he is forced to spend more time engaging with dramatic material. Through every shot where Tears of the Sun clutches to the roots of its sentimental cliches, Bruce Willis works hard to keep up with it all and remains intense the entire time. He has the true nature of a soldier in him, balancing emotional distance from vulnerability alongside determination to protect and serve. Bruce Willis essentially brings his instinctive nature to Tears of the Sun which means he caters to what fans could expect, despite the lack of action scenes. His chemistry with Monica Bellucci is also effectively intense, meaning he is able to engage with her well enough to bring out her own natural strength. Monica Bellucci also works to ensure Tears of the Sun is a well-acted piece.
So Tears of the Sun has Bruce Willis' natural charm and Antoine Fuqua's eye for strong action scenes, but both elements are underutilized in favour of a long and slow narrative built upon an abundance of familiar war movie cliches and sentimentalities.
But to dismiss it altogether is impossible because of the sheer power of the moments and themes that Fuqua nails. When he allows the imagery of human tragedy to speak for itself, "Tears" taps into the depths of human suffering, eliciting a powerful emotional response of empathy and sympathy. Unlike many war films set in exotic lands with American protagonists, "Tears" strives to turn the Other into the same, and the handling of the Nigerian civilians is done humanly, driving home their victimhood without ever placing the civilized Americans on any sort of pedestal over them. (The decision to arm the civilians, for instance, was a superb decision here)
Fuqua forces the viewer to face the agony and reality of human evil, but this brings about an emotional catharsis (aided by a powerful score by Hans Zimmer) that drives the viewer to desire the good all the more. In this regard, I find the development of Bruce Willis's character quite interesting: he can only become a good man once he faces evil. Interesting.
In many respects, "Tears of the Sun" reminds me of a Hollywoodized version of Malick's "Thin Red Line". Fuqua never glorifies combat, though he highlights heroism within combat. Several shots playing with the natural environment reminded me of Malick's brilliant grass shots as well. Also, though some might bemoan the lack of development of the SEAL team, I rather liked the neglect of the typical "bad boy banter", which to me is always tiresome and immature. Aside from the heavily exposition laden dialogue, these felt like real men thrown into the very heart of darkness, and that was enough for me to feel connected.
Yes, the film might become a bit ra-ra America at its conclusion, but I didn't find it that offensive as the film maintained the cost of warfare front and center. American military aid was a relief, not a triumph. Also, the early part of the film skewered America's indifference towards humanitarian crises not in national interest. Yes, this movie could have been better, but when Fuqua lets the tragedy and weight of his story stand on it's own, the storytelling gains a weight and depth not often seen in American action films. Several scenes in this film reduced me to tears, emotionally moving me in ways I rarely feel in film.
Also, the palatable sense of dread and danger added by the civilian element is excellent. In a way, this film attempts to deconstruct the action genre. But that's another story...
As someone who watches a lot of action flicks in general, I've really come to like the work of director Antoine Fuqua. I really think he's one of the few directors in Hollywood that knows how to do good, pulse pounding, and practical action sequences, as well as tension. Granted the films of his that I have seen (Shooter, Olympus Has Fallen, and The Equalizer) aren't by many means deep on an artistic level, I still find them incredibly fun to watch. They know what they are, and don't try to be anything else. Tears of the Sun is a departure from those films previously mentioned.
The story of the film, based on a real life mission conducted by Canadian Special Forces in South America, follows a squad of Navy SEALs as they insert into an unstable Nigeria to extract a nurse and a few other missionary workers. The mission gets complicated when the nurse refuses to go with them unless they can rescue the other innocent lives from the oncoming onslaught of war. The leader of the SEAL team, played by Bruce Willis, now must choose between following orders, and doing what's humanely right.
When you get down to it, Tears of the Sun is really just a slightly more dramatic action movie. It aims to be very high minded, but it's pretty simple storytelling, and it really doesn't delve an awful lot into the human moral aspect of the story. Amongst the actors, Bruce Willis was undoubtably the best. We all know he can do action, but in his performance alone he was able to add some depth to his character. The rest of the SEALs were well acted, but they weren't given much time to flesh out their own personalities. Monica Bellucci also did a pretty decent job, though her character often came off to me as naive to the predicament they were in. Maybe that's my inner military strategist being a cynical asshole. Wouldn't be the first time.
On the more positive side, this is an action movie, and Antoine Fuqua works his directorial magic in the many tense and pulse pounding action sequences in this movie. The terror of war is realized in a few disturbing scenes of genocide, and the final battle was pretty darn intense. What I think worked a lot in the film's favour when it came to the deadly stuff is that the characters didn't feel invincible. The lack of deep running character development can be a blessing and a curse. Sometimes you build up a character so much that it's pretty hard to able them as expendable. By not making the characters all that deep, but still liable to the point that you give a shit, it really added to the intensity because any character could be killed at any given time. To wrap things up, the cinematography was beautiful, and the soundtrack was great as well.
Tears of the Sun definitely has a higher agenda on its mind, but it really doesn't get that across effectively. But there is a decent story here, as well as some good performances and action.