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TEARS OF THE SUN

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci, Cole Hauser, Tom Skerritt
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 121 Minutes
Release Date: June 10, 2003

ďItís been strongly suggested that we abandon these refugees out here in the bush. Iíll tell you right now Iím not gonna do that. I canít do that.Ē

Film ***1/2

Although much of it is made of up elements weíve seen in other films of its kind, Tears of the Sun is an undeniably powerful and striking war film. Like Black Hawk Down, it leads the viewer literally into hell, a place where you donít ever want to be, and keeps you yearning for the moment soldiers find safe haven. The only difference between this and Ridley Scottís film is that the latter was an account of an actual war. Nonetheless, director Antoine Fuqua establishes a strong, serious tone throughout this piece, with the help of a deeply moving script and awe-inspiring cinematography. Itís one of those rare action films where the story drives the action instead of the other way around.

The centerpiece of the movie is a rescue operation in the jungles of war torn Africa. The mission is being carried out by an elite Navy Seal team led by Lt. Waters (Bruce Willis). The main objective is to evacuate Dr. Lena Hendricks (Monica Belluci), a U.S. citizen who providing services in Nigeria to women and children. Dr. Hendricks is an American by marriage, and she is unknowingly in harmís way. Thousands of rebel Muslim soldiers have initiated a bloody massacre, having just assassinated Nigeriaís president, in addition to his family.

The bloodthirsty rebels are now engaged in what is known as ethnic cleansing, wiping out anyone who is a Christian and not a Muslim, and Hendricks happens to be residing at a Nigerian church of god. Once theyíve landed in the jungle, Waters and his team have no problem locating Hendricks, but they do have to bargain with her, since she will not leave the area unless her patients can leave as well. Waters agrees to let her do so, but secretly for only so long, because there are only two choppers, which canít accommodate twenty-plus weakened patients.

When at the rendezvous point, the doctor is stunned when Waters reveals that only she can leave. Forcing her on the chopper, the Seal team completes their mission, but then Waters witnesses something he canít believe. From the chopper, he has seen the church where Hendricks resided burn to the ground, along with the bodies of the doctors and patients who chose to stay behind. Devastated beyond words, Waters orders the chopper to circle back to the refugees. The new plan is to carry off critical patients in the choppers, while Waters escorts those who are able to walk, and to meet in Cameroon, the new rendezvous point.

Waters, with a few of his men against his decision, has clearly made the morally right choice, but at the same time heís disobeyed orders. His superior officer (Tom Skerritt), warns him that his team is not fully equipped to handle any additional threat, which Waters is indeed about to collide with. Then Waters and his men witness another brutal act of ethnic cleansing, and make a pivotal decision to strike with extreme force.

Another strong element in Tears of the Sun, aside from the raw power of the action and story, is Bruce Willis. Here is an actor, whoís been a favorite of mine for quite sometime, who gets better and dynamically stronger with each performance, and his turn as the emotionally conflicted Lt. Waters is one of his finest performances to date. He is presented as a man who knows heís made the right choice by defying orders, but doesnít know exactly why he is doing it, and Willis conveys this complexity quite superbly. Thereís also a stunning presence from Italian actress Monica Bellucci, who can currently be seen in The Matrix Reloaded. Aside from being a stunning beauty, she brings a great deal of fire and emotion to the part of Dr. Hendricks.

For director Antoine Fuqua, this is a pitch-perfect follow up to his superb breakthrough film, Training Day. Fuqua has always been a very good action movie director, and Tears of the Sun is perhaps his strongest action piece to date. He proves he is capable of handling many different genres, as he stages some of the most involving war action to blaze the screen since Black Hawk Down.

Tears of the Sun deserves its place among the best and strongest war films, blending intense action with wonderful visual imagery. Itís an emotionally drawing piece about the act of heroism, while at the same time, not overbearing the notion.

Video ****

Columbia Tri Star delivers one of their best looking discs to date with this jaw-dropping transfer of a disc. Iíve compared this film to Black Hawk Down, and just like that film, its look and feel is captured in this superbly detailed presentation. First off, thereís the stunning cinematography by Mauro Fiore that does nothing short of draw you in with each moving frame. The African jungle settings, whether in day or night time, are seen in tremendous detail and perfected sharpness. A true knockout of a transfer that is certain to not have you look away for a second.

Audio ****

CTS has also provided here one of their strongest audio tracks to date. The power-packed 5.1 mix does nothing short of engaging you right from the opening frame. Itís no question that the battle scenes are the high point of the presentation, and they deserve to be so, but the sound performance also scores points in areas of dialogue delivery and the stunning music, which is provided by both composer Hans Zimmer and some very powerful African chants. The result is a roar of a sound quality that fits perfect for a film of this tone.

Features ****

Yet another terrific Special Edition entry from CTS. Included on the disc is a commentary track from Antoine Fuqua, a writerís observations, a documentary titled ďJourney to Safety: The Making of Tears of the Sun, a voices of Africa featurette, deleted scenes, an interactive map of Africa which captures the numerous settings of the movie, an Africa fact track, and a trailer, as well as bonus trailers for Anger Management, Bad Boys II, Basic, Black Hawk Down, Charlieís Angels: Full Throttle, Hollywood Homicide, Radio, and S.W.A.T.

Summary:

Tears of the Sun is as striking as films of its kind can get. Mixing in elements of Black Hawk Down and Three Kings, as well as unbeatable talents both in front and behind the camera, and is certain to become one of the best films, as well as DVDs, of 2003.