March 13, 2003

Training Pays Off

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At first glance, Tears of The Sun is simply the latest action movie. Look deeper than that. Tears of the Sun is Antoine Fuqua’s cinematic go at the United States Special Forces. Fuqua, who took an inside look at the powers and injustice of the police in last year’s Oscar-winning Training Day, provides a similarly sophisticated look at a different security force. His latest, however, captures the opposite of the former’s inhumane violations by providing Bruce Willis and his camouflaged bad-boys with a moral sense on top of their need to complete their mission.

The film revolves around Special Ops Commander A.K. Waters (Willis) and his team who enter a Nigerian village to rescue an American doctor, Lena Hendricks (Monica Belluci). The rescue is in response to a band of Nigerian Guerrilla Rebels that are closing in on Dr. Hendricks’ area and killing everyone in their way. The doctor refuses to leave without the 70 inhabitants of the hospital. After Waters and his men trick Hendricks into the chopper and fly off, they see a nearby village destroyed and its inhabitants killed. Waters tries to stay true to his mission but cannot help going back when he sees in the doctor’s eyes and in the pummeled village that he is the 70 abandoned Nigerians’ only hope.

The cinematic problem is not in the acting or the action, for both are of high caliber. Bruce Willis combines his Die Hard grit and Sixth Sense sentiment in a way that reveals the dilemma of his character’s morals and orders clashing. His special force men, especially Cole Hauser, display the tenacity of their job as well as thebackrowing concern for the lives they are trying to save. Antoine Fuqua’s landscape and use of the Nigerian forest, nocturnal tension and combat are also top-notch. The only thing that was truly detrimental to this movie was the way in which the plot-creating conundrum was handled.

Willis’ character lies to the doctor to get her on the chopper only to minutes later feel the need to turn around. Then, he sends back a dozen Nigerians to the Cameroonian safe haven only to have his request for more choppers denied by his sargent. From this point on, it was easy to become attached to the characters and their struggle, but one couldn’t help but think that none of this needed to be happening. The Special Ops Forces, capable of so much, could have solved the problem from the get-go. The other problem is that Dr. Hendricks pushed Commander Waters around a little too much. Don’t get me wrong, it is awesome to see a woman of such looks and smarts demand her needs. However, it is bit of a stretch to see a Special Ops Commander, let alone one played by the bald badass himself, cater to her every need.

Still, Tears of The Sun ultimately does impress audiences with moments of conflict, Saving Private Ryan-like combat, and a problem that brings a new meaning to the term “taking orders.” The first time Waters and company stop a group of savagely-acting Guerrillas with sniping, when Atkins (Hauser) takes on a group of Guerrillas by himself, and simply the two sides playing cat and mouse made the 6 bucks a worthwhile investment. There are many instances of whites and blacks working together and Africans being enemies with one another that connect the film with Training Day despite completely different settings. The closing moments, like many crowd-pleasers of its genre, become overly sappy and take away a bit of its genuine goodness. Like the recently released The Recruit, Tears of the Sun gives its audience a full serving of what they are looking for, with a little bit of authenticity on the side.

Archived article by Dan Cohen