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A Movie So Exemplary It Invokes Political Divisiveness And Critic Stereotyping
on May 12, 2008
In this steeply underrated movie, stereotyping, along with strongly evoked political opinions, have clearly denigrated and mis-maligned the exemplary movie, "Tears of the Sun," into a mediocre movie that "offers nothing new to the military action genre...." That viewers even perceive of this magnificent film as a military action genre movie, is nothing short of inexcusable--"Tears of the Sun" is drama at it's best. Moreover, the unfortunate type-casting of Bruce Willis as merely an action genre actor apparently blurs the perception of both fans and critics alike. Indeed, such misconceptions of Bruce Willis are long standing, in spite of his resume in similar films (e.g., "In Country"--see my review of this film under this title) and comedy (e.g., "Moonlighting;" "Sunset Boulevard"). Yes, the movie includes military (Navy SEALS) characters and depicts military special operations and guerrilla/rebel/(terrorist) actions, BUT that is NOT what the movie is about!
This is a character driven drama film, with superlative acting on the part of Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci, and the rest of the cast--which includes actual Nigerian refugees playing the Nigerians. This is a movie about individuals, their personal characteristics, extenuating hardships and events, organizational (military and otherwise) codes of conduct, and the decisions made as a result of their interactions. AND it is a movie about politics, political agendas, and how they translate into reality for individuals--and their doing the right thing.
For Lt. Waters (Bruce Willis) the "reality" is his assigned rules of engagement (engage only if fired on) and his assigned mission--securing Dr. Lena Kendricks (Monica Bellucci). However, in forcing Dr. Kendricks to leave (in violation of her constitutional rights) and get onto the helicopter, in leaving refugees behind (that he'd told he was evacuating), and in seeing (yet again) what the "rebels" have done to the Mission (where Dr. Kendricks was working), a "transformation" that even Lt. Waters does not understand is invoked--although the viewer may see him humanizing the events he finds himself in. Moreover, while moving to the evacuation site, Lt. Waters finds himself in a situation of having to "fluidly assess" his rules of engagement: he kills a straggling "rebel" soldier to prevent his men (along with the doctor and the refugees) from being fired upon. Thus, while his mission is to secure the "package" (Dr. Kendricks) and the rules of engagement are to engage only if fired on, events force Lt. Waters to subjectively (in military jargon, "fluidly assess" the situation), rather than objectively, interpret the intent of his mission and his ordered rules of engagement. And so, as they evacuate, Lt. Waters makes another decision--based on the interaction of the reality at hand and his apparently "newly found conscience"--to turn the helicopter around. In doing so, Lt Waters is "fluidly assessing" his mission and rules of engagement: the mission now is Dr. Kendricks and her "luggage"--the refugees; his rules of engagement become whatever is needed to protect the mission. This decision then further interacts with future factors, pushing Lt. Waters to make more and more subjective decisions, each of which seriously challenges his (and others) interpretation of his mission, and his interpretation of his rules for engagement.
As the lines of interpretation blur for Lt. Waters, the interactions of his self, his mission, and his decision increasingly personalize events as they unfold. In turn, each decision he makes, along with his increased personalization, effects the men of his command, and they too begin to personalize the "mission" and their understanding of what needs to be done (and, ultimately, sacrificed) as events occur. The personalization process recedes eventually into individual politics, as portrayed when Lt. Waters calls his men together, briefs them, and tells them to speak their minds. In Lt. Waters' fashion, he is seeking to establish a common political agenda with that of the "mission" (Dr. Kendricks and "her" people) and the rapidly fluidly changing rules of engagement.
For Dr. Lena Kendricks (Monica Bellucci) the "reality" is her oath as a doctor/humanitarian and her mission to protect "her people," the refugees--and in particular the last surviving hereditary leader of the previous ruling ethnic group. In being forced to leave the Mission, she challenges Lt. Waters', and his men's, objectivity and sense of "reality", by flaunting and demanding acknowledgment of the Nigerians' "reality" and the politics of Nigeria--including the agenda of genocide. Her refusal to leave the "able" refugees behind at the Mission and her outrage in learning that Lt. Waters lied to her, along with her inability to make her own choices, leaves her vulnerable, helpless and mistrusting. But, Lt. Waters' killing of the "rebel" soldier, which both horrifies and angers her (because he didn't kill them all), forces Dr. Kendricks to recognize the severity of the situation. So, when Lt. Waters does return, she subjectively assess the situation, and makes the decision to withhold information and constantly argue with the soldiers, hoping to bring sanity where there is none. As events unfold, Dr. Kendricks comes to personalize Lt. Waters and his men, subjectively softening her angst, but not her mistrust, of the soldiers and their potential sacrifices. When a "mole" is discovered and shot fleeing, she is once again faced with a decision: to tell or not to tell Lt. Waters about the "special" refugee. Her failure to tell brings her fidelity into question, both for herself and for Lt. Waters and his men. A fierce ambush that inflicts casualties to both soldiers and refugees results in Dr. Hendricks' decision to alter her subjective perspective of the situation, becoming more vocal in pushing the refugees forward and doing whatever she can to protect everyone. When soldiers are hit or do extraordinary tasks, she personalizes them as if they were "her" people. In doing so, so do the Nigerians personalize their perspective of the soldiers and their "reality," picking up weapons to help defend themselves and others. In Dr. Hendricks' fashion, she is also seeking to establish a common political agenda with her humanitarianism and more encompassing mission to protect everyone, and Lt. Waters' political agenda.
As for complaints I have seen in other reviews, I have a few rebuttals. First, while I have seen many of Bruce Willis' and Antoine Fuqua's movies, I do not understand the complaint that there is an "all too familiar cast, (right down to Tom Skerritt as the "Captain")...." Even if some of the cast have been in other movies together, how does that detract from their performances in "Tears of the Sun?" They are all solid in my opinion. Second, as for make-up appearing to be "halloween funny," I can honestly say that I only notice make-up when it interferes with the actors performance, which was not the case in this movie. Conversely, I did feel that the face camo at the beginning was far better than most movies, and seemed to "wear" off as it normally would (based on my personal military experiences). Third, with regards to the combat scenes, I can honestly say that this is the first movie I can recall, where the ambushed soldiers did exactly what they would do in combat. Granted, for filming purposes they walked rather than ran (which would have made the scene last seconds not minutes) and the soldiers were bunched up too tight so they would all fit in the lens. But, otherwise I felt this was very well done; as were most of the other "battle" scenes. Fourth, with regards to the comment that the movie is "Apalling [sic] racist claptrap," which in "[h]aving chosen to set it in a real country, Nigeria, the movie then proceeds to play Nigerians as 'bad, evil' people who will commit atrocities because they can;...." As a person who abhors discrimination and stereotyping of any individual or group, I saw nothing that was "appalling," "racist," or performances that simply portrayed Nigerians as "'bad, evil 'people." I did see Nigerians acting like Nigerian refugees, some of which were excellent performances. Yes, the so called "rebel" soldiers were shown as being one-dimensional and performing "outrageous" acts of terrorism, crime, and genocide. But the reality is unfortunately simple: mutilation, rape, dismemberment, torture, murder and other unthinkable acts are committed in "war," as well as other times; and often by all sides involved. And they have happened in Nigeria, just as they have occurred in the US (e.g., see my review of "Soldier Blue") and all other countries. That said, it is unfortunate that there was not enough time allowed to enhance the one-dimensional portrayals of the "rebels." For example, many of the so called "rebels" were probably also victims of violence and forced into the military, and as such were acting in the only way they knew how. For a better understanding of this process, I strongly recommend "Pedagogy of the Oppressed," by Paulo Freire and Myra Bergman Ramos. Lastly, with regards to any criticism that the film is "jingoism" (advocacy of warlike foreign policy), "sword rattling," "militaristic," or some other form of propaganda, I can only ask "what hole are you hiding in?" Please try to remember that "Tears of the Sun" is a character driven FICTIONAL drama that is about politics, political agendas, and how they translate into reality for individuals--and the decisions they make in the moment.
Update--1 July 2008: If this review was not helpful to you, I would appreciate learning the reason(s) so I can improve my reviews. My goal is to provide help to potential buyers, not get into any arguments. So, if you only disagree with my opinion, could you please say so in the comments and not indicate that the review was not helpful. Thanks.