Lowdown: A tough American platoon sent to rescue a Caucasian woman in Africa ends up crusading for the entire nation.
What is so wrong with Tears of the Sun, a 2003 action film starring Bruce Willis, that I am yet to see it? Indeed, a mystery given the fact I got to watch most of Willis’ action flicks, some of which are far from impressive. Having watched Tears of the Sun last night I finally have the answer to the riddle.
Tears of the Sun is set in an African nation recently going through a revolution. The rebels are performing ethnic cleansing, and in the mayhem that ensues Bruce Willis' crack American commando unit is returning to the safety of its aircraft carrier after rescuing American embassy staff. Theirs is a short rest, though: they are immediately recalled to rescue a female doctor working at a monastery (Monica Bellucci). She is only American through marriage, but she still won’t go when Willis comes to pick her up – not without all her monastery mates. Willis is reluctant at first, but events take the better of him as – against all odds – the company finds itself protecting a large group of fugitives from the mighty rebel army in a battle that may end up as crucial to the entire nation. In effect, Bruce Willis is playing a Rambo role here, only that he has a company to support him; and in another effect, Bellucci is playing the usual role of the typical action film dumb but good looking female bimbo. Oddly, Bellucci’s boobs do not have an active role in the film; I will leave it for you to determine whether that is a positive or a negative.
As far as action films go, Tears of the Sun is quite entertaining and thrilling, to an extent I quite enjoyed it. It is, however, let down by some severe unrealism. Granted, nothing we haven’t seen before: endless clips, goodies able to walk through a shower of bullets unharmed while the baddies never manage to dodge a single bullet, goodies always able to get up after being hit while the baddies never require more than one bullet to forever go silent, fighter jets that go on bombing runs with their signal lights on, and the biggest hit – extremely well lit night time jungles (albeit lit with this weird blue light). As I said, we’ve seen these issues before; they do, however, stand out in Tears of the Sun more than in other films because Tears of the Sun pretends to be realistic in plenty of other ways, including the army manners of Willis & Co (speech, dress, equipment).
Realism or the lack of it is the least of Tears of the Sun’s problems. You catch a whiff of the film’s spirit at the beginning, when the film tells you a revolution took place at this African nation made of Muslims and Christians. Then you get to meet the good African guys, and they are all very obviously good Christians: they live at a monastery, they nurture the poor and provide medical help to those in need (and there are lots of people in need). Then the baddies arrive: Tears of the Sun doesn’t explicitly label them, but the word Muslim does hang up in the air. Muslims or not, these dudes lack compassion: they kill everything Christian, have no respect for god, and even behead the monastery boss on his very altar. The point I’m trying to make is that Christians are portrayed as victims here by virtue of them being Christians, while the baddies are portrayed as baddies by virtue of them hating/killing Christians.
Then we move on to similar quality characterization of everything American: Americans are always good, especially if Bellucci is there to prove them right; they will save everyone; they’re the only ones that can do it. Combine the Christian motif with the good American motif, spice it up with stuff like “the blacks of Africa are the brothers and sisters of the blacks in America”, and you can see where Tears of the Sun is coming from. While ethnic cleansing of Christians did take place, and while the USA has been known to do a good thing from time to time, the unlikely combination of it all can only mean one thing: cheap war mongering propaganda.
Tears of the Sun is obviously a kneejerk reaction to the events of September 11, but of all the ways a knee can jerk itself following such a traumatic event this film chose the scummiest one. It reads as nothing more than a call to arms for Americans to go and rid the world of the evil out there by using force, and it does so by playing up the Christian victimhood card.
Worst scene: Willis & Co learn that amongst their caravan of fugitives hides the son of the country’s assassinated leader, a guy who was just on his way into turning his country to a democracy. There you go: by drawing the "democracy" card among all the other aces it pulls out of its hat, Tears of the Sun delves even further into being a propaganda film to justify wars through.
You would have thought that we have grown too cynical and we know too much about this world than to have such cheap propaganda material as Tears of the Sun thrown at us, but obviously someone thought otherwise. Ethnic cleansing is bad enough without serious stereotyping of the George W Bush style good vs. evil, you’re either with us or against us type; these are out of place as of kindergarten level. It is logic such as this that has our soldiers drowning in the mud of Iraq and Afghanistan. Where is the real Bruce Willis, Mr Bush? You’ve retired in peace but the rest of us are still paying the price of your stupidity.
Tears of the Sun is therefore a sad, sad affair at 2 out of 5 stars.