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'Tears of the Sun'

Bruce Willis is a tough hero in "Tears of the Sun."

Friday, March 07, 2003

BY Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Just in case you (somehow) missed the message of the two-hour movie, "Tears of the Sun," it closes with an Edmund Burke quote: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

While you don't think so initially, and even he may not think so, it turns out that Lt. A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis) is a good man. The Navy SEAL and his men have been dispatched to a Catholic mission in remote Nigeria to pick up a "package," military lingo for foreign nationals being evacuated. They're being sent for a physician, a priest and two nuns.

 
 
'TEARS OF THE SUN'

RATING: R for strong war violence, some brutality and language.

STARRING: Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci.

DIRECTOR: Antoine Fuqua.

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The presidential family has been assassinated, and the country is going up in flames, with rebel troops on the rampage. The religious won't leave and neither will Dr. Lena Kendricks (Monica Bellucci), at least not without some of the villagers. Waters agrees to transport those who can walk, and they start an arduous journey to a clearing where a chopper can land.

But once the helicopter arrives, Waters does what he planned all along: With squinty-eyed resolve, he grabs Kendricks, hustles her aboard and leaves the doomed villagers behind. As they're in flight, they see the burning ruins of the mission and Waters orders the bird turned around.

Once they land, a dozen refugees are flown off to safety while the remainder, the Navy SEALs and the doctor take off on foot, anticipating the return of more helicopters. But the air space is too dangerous to enter, and Waters' commanding officer (Tom Skerritt) tells him he's on his own.

Huh? What happened to that lesson we learned in "Black Hawk Down" and countless other movies about no man being left behind? As the Americans and refugees tromp through the muddy, rainy jungle, they witness more horrors, find themselves under fierce fire and must weigh their own safety against that of these strangers in their charge.

"Tears of the Sun," directed by Pittsburgh native Antoine Fuqua and written by Alex Lasker and Patrick Cirillo, forces Willis to talk in a sort of weary warspeak. When a Nigerian crumples over the death of a friend, he orders him to "Cowboy the [expletive] up."

The murder, mutilation and rapes they witness are so horrible that no human being should turn his back. But nowhere is there a threat of discipline or dismissal if Waters continues to disobey orders. While the production notes mention Waters has been in the military 25 years, we never get a sense of how his service molded him into a man who doesn't give a darn. Or use the word "darn."

Fuqua shot in Hawaii but insisted on using Africans to play the refugees, and they lend authenticity to the picture. While the complicated action is well-choreographed, some of the nighttime scenes were so dark that I had a hard time figuring out what was happening.

Willis wears the stony heroic role like a uniform, while Bellucci ("Malena") supplies fiery passion -- even if she seems to be wearing long-lasting lipstick and mascara throughout. The screenplay, inspired by "The Sand Pebbles," mixes modern military technology with old-fashioned tension builders, as when a baby must be kept quiet lest the rebels be alerted.

I have no idea if the United States is in the mood for "Tears." It's not a picture about smart bombs launched from afar. It's about a military mission that springs from the heart, not the head, and is hatched on the spot and not in a White House war room. And leaves a trail of corpses in its wake.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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