Tears of the Sun
reviewed by Steve Sailer
UPI, February 20, 2003
For decades, Hollywood saw Africa as a sunny setting where white folks like Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn or Robert Redford and Meryl Streep could enjoy outdoor adventure and romance. As anti-colonialist sensitivities hardened, however, nostalgic portrayals of glamorous and benevolent settlers have become politically unacceptable.
Meanwhile, in the real world, the more the colonial era fades into the past, the worse the news from Africa gets. Massacres, corruption, famine, and now disease dominate the few column inches the newspapers devote to Africa.
Not surprisingly, filmmakers have responded, like most of us, by largely losing interest in Africa. Thus, it was surprising to see ads touting a new Bruce Willis action drama set in Nigeria.
"Tears of the Sun" begins with fictional but unfortunately believable CNN coverage of a coup by the northern Muslim Fulani tribe, followed by massacres of the southern Christian Ibos in the horrific tradition of Rwanda and Sierra Leone.
Willis plays the leader of a Navy SEAL commando unit sent to evacuate a beautiful lady mission doctor. After seeing the carnage first-hand, Willis violate his orders and help her Ibo refugees walk to the Cameroon border. The SEALS find Muslim soldiers ethnically cleansing an Ibo village and annihilate them. Then an elite Fulani force chases them through the jungle. At the end, there's a really big explosion.
And that's about it. "Tears of the Sun" has one of the most minimal scripts I've ever seen. About 80 minutes into the two-hour movie, for example, there's a plot development where we learn why they are being followed. It's not well crafted -- no attempt was made to prefigure it -- but I thought to myself, "Hey, at least it's a plot development. Something is better than nothing."
"Tears" resembles a slow, despondent remake of Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Predator." In that minor classic, a similar crew of commandos is also stalked through the tropical forest, but by a vacationing hunter from outer space who intends to mount Arnold's stuffed head over his interstellar fireplace. He's a genuine sportsman (sportsalien?) who at the end strips off his superweapons and honorably challenges Arnold to duke it out man-to-monster. Too bad "Tears" doesn't have any human characters as fleshed out as "Predator's" space monkey.
Remember when Bruce Willis was funny? In recent years, his underlying sadness seems to have been winning the battle with his wit. The once arrogant wisecracker has become ever more self-effacing onscreen. I don't know whether this stems from newfound moral wisdom or clinical depression, but I fear Gloomy Gus can't give too many more charisma-free performances like this one and remain a huge star.
The rest of the cast is also glum, with the most memorable performance turned in by a violently yawning baboon.
Reports from the set in Hawaii indicate that Willis and Antoine Fuqua, the director best known for 2001's powerful "Training Day" (for which Denzel Washington won the Oscar), were at loggerheads over script and tone. Fuqua and Willis seem to have compromised by simply eliminating everything that they couldn't agree upon.
Fuqua wanted a downbeat depiction of genocide demonstrating the need for Western interventions. The film ends with Edmund Burke's famous line, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." In contrast, Willis wanted it to be more entertaining.
Fuqua appears to have come out on top, since "Tears" is certainly not entertaining.
Still, Fuqua, who is black, is an interesting filmmaker because he ignores white Hollywood's stereotype that blacks are automatically more virtuous than whites. Fuqua's "Training Day" was refreshing because the corrupt policeman was black and the innocent one white (in contrast to the recent cop flop "Dark Blue").
Fuqua's dour film fails to convey the engaging cheerfulness and vivacity of Africans. By portraying the Ibos only as generic victims, it doesn't help us care about them. Scenes of Fulanis slaughtering Ibos just made me want to think about something else. Only the most saintly of humanitarians can avoid falling into despair over Africa.
Instead, the continent's enduring appeal has been to more macho souls -- hunters, pilots, farmers, even mercenaries, many of whom can't seem to stay away from Africa.
"Tears" did not make me want to dispatch American boys into African wars. Yet, sometimes a little force can help humanity.
Consider the coming famine in Zimbabwe. A friend of mine with long experience putting together covert military operations says that, if given a moderate investment, he could organize a mercenary force to remove the catastrophe's main cause, racist President Robert Mugabe. My friend, though, would just wind up in the dock of the International Court in The Hague. So, he asks, why bother?
"Tears" is rated R for strong war violence, some brutality, and language.
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