Tears of the Sun
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Written by Alex Lasker, Patrick Cirillo
Starring Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci


Tears of the Sun

Near the end of "Tears of the Sun," an Ibo woman tells Monica Bellucci: "God will not forget you." Apart from the theological furor that would be raised if in fact God's memory turned out to be faulty, her wish is misplaced. Monica, or maybe I should say Doctor Monica, since that's what she plays, as in 'let's play doctor,' with her shirt open to her bellybutton, has already lied about an essential fact, and when trouble really strikes she has fainted at a crucial moment.

There's more, but let's get the so-called plot out of the way. The film is set in contemporary Nigeria. Bruce Willis is Navy Seals Lieut. A. K. Waters, who leads his ten men in a rescue mission from an aircraft carrier patrolling off the coast. There is a civil war raging, and his group is charged with getting Doctor Monica and her staff of a priest and two nuns from their jungle hospital, by helicopter, before the rebel forces get to them. The priest and nuns refuse to go, so Willis is stuck with just Doctor Monica. But now she refuses to go unless the seventy people living in and around the mission are brought out too. Navy policy says no, Bruce says yes, so he must lead the group on foot all the way to the Cameroon border before the rebels catch up with them. If you insist on knowing how the story comes out I will tell you that, yes, most of them do make it, though there are a few casualties as the ten of them fight off what appears to be the entire rebel army without ever running out of ammunition.

Here are two difficult questions raised by the film: 1. What does "Tears of the Sun" mean? I ask this because as I watched the film I spent a lot of time trying out different possible meanings, but the only answer I could come up with is that the sun is saddened by having to watch bad movies. 2 (and perhaps more relevant): Why Nigeria? Nigeria is not in a civil war, so is this a new American imperialist plot? Did the real Nigerian government know that the studio was going to give them a bloody civil war and the assassination of their president? What do they think now about American movies?

The film is a compendium of every cliché you've ever seen in a war film. To begin with, the script itself is a shambles. Lines like "Did we do good, lieutenant?" from a dying Seal to Willis, are answered, of course, with "Sure, you did good." The continuity is worse. We're told the group is an hour and a half from where they'll be picked up. It's night. They start walking. It's day, and then night again, and then day, before they get there. Every conversation is stretched out so that, for instance, when Willis says to Doctor Monica, "Get everybody moving," there is a pause while she stares at him, he stares at her, and then she slowly turns and says, "Okay." To call anyone in the film a stick figure would be too flattering; there isn't even a hint of characterization here.

More than this is another question raised by the film. "Tears of the Sun" is an updated version of the white man's burden, where it takes western firepower and technology, and morality(!), to save our little black brothers and sisters from themselves. Where is any mention of the way in which the West carved up Africa to suit itself, destroying and humiliating whole societies, setting one tribe against another, and then leaving without even a backward glance? Where is any acknowledgment that there are complexities in all societies that govern relationships and actions? Not here. This is the kind of film that American studios turned out by the dozens in World War II, where only action mattered, where racism was encouraged, and where America always won. Its time is long past.