- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

"Tears of the Sun" will seem admirably timed from the standpoint of people who regard themselves as pro-military. It's more likely to be regarded as dirty pool by the resurgent anti-war sector, which boasts a vocal membership in Hollywood and will have to spend the next several weeks fuming at the popularity of this valorous rabble-rouser.
An exceptionally dynamic and stirring blend of escape thriller and combat spectacle, "Tears" was shot in lush and evocative terrain on Oahu, which doubles for faraway locations in West Africa. Director Antoine Fuqua and his associates celebrate the prowess of a Navy SEAL squadron that shepherds African refugees to safety in two rather mismatched stages.
A new eruption of civil war in Nigeria has placed the Christian Ibo population at risk of slaughter from army elements aligned with a Muslim political faction. Returning from one evacuation mission to the carrier Harry S. Truman, the SEAL unit commanded by Bruce Willis as Lt. A.K. Waters is ordered to extract a quartet of foreign nationals from a Catholic medical mission in a rain-forest region.
On arrival, Waters discovers that the four a doctor, a priest and two nuns are reluctant to leave suffering patients and apprehensive villagers. The physician, Monica Bellucci as the Italian-born Dr. Lena Kendricks, agrees to leave when Waters consents to escort about 70 villagers (everyone capable of a jungle trek) to safety that is, to a rendezvous point where Waters and his charges are to be picked up by helicopters.
For the sake of exposition, Mr. Willis and Miss Bellucci are obliged to exchange glares and sharp words, but only for a spell. Their group slips by army patrols in the night and reaches the rendezvous site. At that point, Waters, still following orders to extract just four people, strong-arms the irate doctor onto one of the three choppers, leaving the villagers to the mercy of their enemies.
The movie milks this situation for a minute or two. Then Waters has an indispensable change of heart. The choppers return to the rendezvous point, load up all the young and old from the village and fly back to sea.
Waters resolves to lead his squadron and the remaining refugees to the Cameroon border. The exodus has been reduced to the fit and swift, but the new escape route proves an obstacle course.
The rescuers acquire a few more dependents when they arrive at a village where a mass slaughter is winding down. They stealthily and methodically envelope the village and shoot the marauders. The exodus resumes, and there's a welcome thaw in the Waters-Kendricks relationship. He allows her to treat his wound but remains a man of few words and permanently haunted preoccupations. Without getting specific, the film implies that Waters probably is haunted by failed or thwarted rescue missions of the past.
However, it's just as well that Bruce Willis doesn't have to explain himself at length to the actors playing his comrades. The heroic but mouthy Mr. Willis is already an overfamiliar figure, one who would be completely out of tenor with the grave undercurrents of this adventure saga. Taciturn but valiant, the Waters character also flatters the star in several respects: Mr. Willis gets to play bald and unshaven as well as hard-bitten; and when necessary, he can look extremely lethal.
The movie becomes a streamlined juggernaut of suspense and visceral excitement down the stretch. The action culminates in a pitched battle against hundreds of rebel troops lurking in ambush a short distance from the haven of Cameroon. The topography gives each violent sequence a distinctive framework and pictorial impact.
For the purposes of movie illusion, Mr. Willis and his fellow warriors appear very capable of defending themselves and their flock to the utmost. They also get more shadings than you would expect from an echoing catchphrase, "Roger that."
Mr. Fuqua is becoming something of a virtuoso at sensational depiction, evident a year ago in the urban settings of "Training Day" and now magnified by the exotic backdrops and military trappings of "Tears of the Sun." His sense of portraiture is perhaps his strongest suit. There aren't many directors who seem as alert to the specific, individualized emotional power in faces.
Action movies usually are at their best when not much needs to be said. The illusion of mortal peril ought to enhance concentration and empathy if a director has adequate control of the material. There are a couple of lapses in "Tears of the Sun" when verbal expressions of gratitude obviously fail the screenwriters; reading the faces of the actors would get the message across.
A few members of the squadron never quite emerge from the group until they're on the verge of death, but that gambit pays eloquently wrenching dividends during the last battle. Mr. Willis and the rest of the squadron Cole Hauser as Red, Eamonn Walker as Zee, Johnny Messner as Kelly, Nick Chinlund as Slo, Paul Francis as Doc, Chad Smith as Flea and Charles Ingram as Silk don't waste many words, but they earn your trust as fictional warriors.
At least one of Mr. Willis' lines does have an amusing currency: "So much for diplomacy." Roger that and saddle up with the Magnificent Eight of "Tears of the Sun."
***1/2
TITLE: "Tears of the Sun"
RATING: R (Frequent graphic violence, involving depictions of military combat and atrocities; occasional profanity; fleeting nudity and depictions of rape in war-torn settings)
CREDITS: Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Written by Alex Lasker and Patrick Cirillo.
RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes

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