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Rambo Gone Good

A review of Tears of the Sun

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Tears of the Sun (R)
Revolution Studios and Columbia Pictures

Last weekend on NPR's Morning Edition, director Antoine Fuqua talked about his new guts-and-glory adventure flick, Tears of the Sun. His intentions in making the film, he said, were twofold: 1) to bring attention to the incredible human suffering on the African continent; and 2) to honor the Special Forces soldiers who voluntarily put themselves in harm's way as a matter of duty.

Honorable intentions aside, Fuqua should have stuck with one story or the other. In his attempt to meld these two noble tales, he has created an overblown Hollywood production based on a false premise that simultaneously trivializes the suffering in Africa and mythologizes a military mission that never took place, stretching the bounds of credibility while manipulating its audience shamelessly.

Bruce Willis stars as Navy SEALS Lieutenant A.K. Waters, a hardened guy with a scar above his eye, a five-o'clock shadow and, we can only surmise, a stunted emotional life. When the Nigerian presidential family is assassinated and a military coup wreaks havoc on the country and anyone who "goes to the wrong church," Waters and his unit are ordered in to rescue American doctor Lena Kendricks (Monica Bellucci). Their orders are to bring the doctor back promptly and not to engage with rebel troops except in self-defense.

When they arrive at the jungle camp that Bellucci shares with a group of Irish Catholic missionaries, Waters and Company are thrown a curve: Dr. Kendricks, who looks like she just stepped out of a Prada ad, won't leave without "her people," a ragged band of natives attached to her clinic.

After lots of grimacing and maneuvering through the lush, gorgeous jungle (actually the windward side of Oahu in Hawaii), A.K. and his guys reluctantly decide to do the right thing and escort the entire group across the border to Cameroon.

The rest of the film, with the exception of a grueling scene where the party witnesses the rebel slaughter of a village and the U.S. soldiers, defying orders, retaliate, is pretty much standard sloshing through the jungle while dodging enemy fire.

The dialogue is abominable, equal almost to the worst John Wayne World War II propaganda. At one point, when a wide-eyed, helpless native man is immobilized with fear and can't move on, Willis gets in his face and screams: "Now cowboy the fuck up! You hear me?" In consultation with his men, A.K. tells them, "I broke my own rule. I started to give a shit." Another soldier, a black man, delivers this solemn soliloquy in support of his commanding officer's decision to stay: "Those Africans are my people too. For all the years we've been told to stand down, stand back -- you're doing the right thing."

The writers want us to know that these big, tough men wielding huge automatic weapons are sensitive pussycats underneath, and we buy it until they open their mouths and spout more inanities.

Someone should remind Antoine Fuqua that less is more when it comes to depicting human suffering and human compassion. And please, the next time you want to honor the dignity of Africans, don't hire Hans Zimmer to write a New Age, generic world music soundtrack.

Tears of the Sun is schmaltz with a capital S, serving to remind us how desperately we need honest movies that address difficult moral issues, and how much we don't need another Rambo, even one conceived of good intentions.

-- Kathryn Eastburn

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