The story of Tears of the Sun begins with a rescue mission. Bruce Willis and his SEAL Team are sent into Nigeria in order to rescue a U.S. citizen (by marriage only) from the tribal war that’s going on there. The President has been assassinated by rebel forces, and things are getting pretty violent. The person they are sent in to rescue is a doctor named Lena (Monica Bellucci), and she decides that she needs all of her patients to be rescued as well.
Here is the first point of conflict in the film. Willis’ orders are to extract her and any other Americans, but to leave any of the locals. We can see the inner conflict in his eyes. He wants to help them, but his orders forbid it. Regardless, Lena won’t come unless they take the locals as well. So they do. They make it to the extract point, but only Lena gets to come aboard. The locals are forced to walk all the way to the safety of the Cameroon border. It was a trick, and it worked. The SEAL Team rescued Lena, completed their mission, and the helicopter will take them to safety. Mission finished; movie over.
Oh wait, that’s not how it ends. That would be a pretty boring movie, wouldn’t it? They do get on the helicopter though, and it looks like everything has gone as planned. But Willis decides to turn them around and go back for the people who Lena had been defending so vehemently. Once back, they get off the helicopter and put the injured, young and old on instead. The soldiers are going to personally escort this group of people to safety, even though they’re going against direct orders. That doesn’t sound like a great plan to me, but apparently this group of lifeless and emotionless soldiers actually do have consciences.
For reasons that are initially unknown, the group is being followed by rebel soldiers. There is one moment when the rebels wind up very close to the people we’re following, and it’s at this moment that I knew I was having a really good time with Tears of the Sun. This scene is filled with such tension and great thrills, that I found myself really engaged. I realized that I wanted to see these people — most of whom don’t even get names — to make it to safety, and I wanted to see Bruce Willis lead them there. We hadn’t even gotten an action scene yet, and I was perfectly okay with that.
We do get a couple of action scenes though, with the first one occurring after the first hour is already complete. The first comes when the SEAL Team sees a group of rebels terrorizing a small village, or group of houses. Our heroes go in to stop them. The second is your standard action movie shootout-to-end-all-shootouts, but it’s competently done and is a fitting conclusion. Both action scenes are fun, even if they’re not all that inventive or creative.
What Tears of the Sun does really well is involving you with the characters and the situations that these characters face. You get right in there with them, and you experience everything that they do. You travel with them, rest with them, fight with them, and all the while, you feel like you’re one of them. It doesn’t feel like large portions of their journey are missing; instead, you feel like you’re there for every step and moment that occurs.
The only real problem with the film is that the tribal war that’s going on doesn’t feel all that bad to us. The opening scene is the execution of the President and his family, and every now and then, we see shots of the rebels causing havoc around the country. But to us, and our group of soldiers and refugees, they seem no more of a threat than your standard enemies in an action movie. Their motives are not made especially clear either, and I’m still not quite sure as to why they need to track our group, or why the main commander of the rebels is leading the charge.
But I didn’t have time to think about these things while Tears of the Sun was playing. I was too immersed, and the pacing was too slick, to have me consider these things. Even though I watched the director’s cut, which is 142 minutes long, it didn’t feel like it overstayed its welcome. I wanted to watch from beginning to end, and there wasn’t a moment when I was bored. I’ve heard that the theatrical cut was worse, although I haven’t seen it. For what it’s worth, I thought the director’s cut was great.
The acting isn’t anything to write home about, but it really doesn’t have to be. Bruce Wills just whispers his way through the role, doesn’t show any real emotion, although nobody else does either. Despite this, I liked these characters because of their noble actions, and it seemed like there was a great deal of repressed emotion in the way they acted. Or maybe I’m just looking too deeply into their performances. Whatever. The point is, having largely emotionless character ends up working well in this film, even if it means there isn’t as much depth as I’d usually hope to see.
Tears of the Sun is a really good movie about a rescue mission involving some people from Nigeria. It’s about as basic as you can get, and yet, I was fully engrossed while it was playing. It works because it isn’t just a simple action movie, and because it doesn’t feel like it cheats you out of scenes involving these soldiers. You feel just like one of the people being rescued, being fully immersed in everything taking place. It’s not perfect, but it’s very entertaining.