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Tears of the Sun

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
Tears of the Sun
from Film Forum, 03/13/03

Tears of the Sun (Sony) follows a group of Navy SEALs into Africa to save a missionary doctor from violent rebels in a Nigerian civil war. But as the rescue endeavor proceeds, the tough-talking lieutenant (Bruce Willis) is challenged by the conscientious humanitarian (Monica Belucci). She refuses to leave unless the soldiers save the lives of these persecuted people that she loves. Will our heroes merely follow procedure, or break the rules to act out of conscience? The film, directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), begins with a quote from British philosopher Edmund Burke: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Several religious press critics are pleased by what they see. Phil Boatwright (Movie Reporter) says, "Tense action and an adroit portrait of the resoluteness of America's military highlight this violent action drama. Willis is excellent as a tough solider with a heart. However, the action and the tension seldom let up."

Blaine Butcher (Preview) says, "This picture, while not based on actual events, provides insight into the horrors of ethnic cleansing and religious persecution throughout many parts of the world."

"Tears … is not interested in exploring the political aspects of U.S. foreign policy," writes Michael Elliott (Movie Parables). "The questions it asks are more personal, dealing with the ethical and moral consequences of inaction. It asks us to consider that some things go beyond politics and governments. Some things are just wrong on the most basic of human levels and if we have the ability to stop them, we should … or we should at least try."

But Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) is not so impressed. He finds the film's treatment of complex issues "simplistic." He writes, "Fuqua's tribute to U.S. military men celebrates fortitude and compassion, but its generic, unconvincing moral dilemmas and dimensionless characters fail as drama."

Steven Isaac (Focus on the Family) says, "The story isn't deep. And the characters aren't especially well-developed. But Fuqua's intended message survives. Could he have as effectively presented that message without resorting to gruesome depictions of death and mutilation? Possibly. But even without the special effects, this wouldn't have been a film for families. The subject matter is far too intense and could be damaging to children." He emphasizes that this is not entertainment to take lightly, and that viewers "should be heartbroken, mourning the loss of millions upon millions of innocents around the world."

Taking a different tone, Holly McClure (Crosswalk) exclaims, "Bravo for a movie that gives us a hero we can cheer for in a time when we need to cheer for our heroes! This is an intense movie but I really enjoyed it because it was intense, suspenseful, interesting, and unique with a hero who had a compassionate and merciful side."

Mainstream critics also accuse the film of oversimplifications. Owen Gleiberman (Entertainment Weekly) calls it "a broad, shallow fantasy of American intervention and omnipotence. The righteousness of Tears of the Sun would be more effective if the film weren't caught between realism and escapism, faux topicality and action dream. This may not be the best moment to make war look easier than it is."

Similarly, Todd McCarthy (Variety) argues, "Uninvolving due to stick-figure characters and off-putting in its images of technology-enhanced Yanks striding like benevolent giants among helpless Third World victims, this is one of those pictures that unavoidably becomes part of the zeitgeist due to its coincidental arrival at a precise moment in history when its themes play into current events. … "

COMMENTARYThe Movies Go to WarThe moral messages and political overtones of war films.by Peter T. ChattawayBooks & Culture, July/August 2003


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