Tears of the Sun Review
Even after two horrific world wars, violence is still rife in today’s global climate, whether through acts of terrorism or brutal civil wars that tears countries and their inhabitants' lives apart. Africa has seen its fair share of the latter, with genocide occurring almost at whim; it takes little to make some people decide to eradicate others just because they are 'different'.
This bloody subject is tackled by Tears of the Sun, which marks director Antoine Fuqua's return to the screen since the excellent Training Day. Starring Bruce Willis as veteran Navy SEAL Lt. Waters, he is sent into the heart of war-torn Africa with the rest of his unit, with the hazardous task of rescuing Dr Lena Hendricks (Monica Bellucci), a US citizen who runs a mission. When the beautiful doctor refuses to abandon the refugees in her care, Lt. Waters finds himself having to choose between following orders and the dictates of his own conscience. Together, they begin a dangerous trek through the deadly jungle, all the while being pursued by a rebel militia group, with only one goal in mind: to assassinate Lt. Waters' unit and the refugees in his care...
This premise makes for a fairly adrenaline-pumping action thriller through Nigeria, as Waters' unit dodge bullets and aim to deliver their precious cargo alive to nearby Cameroon. Beginning as a simple mission, it soon elevates to Black Hawk Down levels of screw-ups, as the SEALs manage to disobey orders and also find themselves fighting to survive.
Set against the backdrop of African landscapes, these peaceful and luscious visuals are juxtaposed by brutal and sadistic violence, as the rebels kill villagers – men, women and children – before engaging with the US forces. Antoine Fuqua has captured the magic of the landscapes beautifully, with wonderful cinematography and direction throughout; yet also showing the darker goings-on beneath the surface. Special mention must go to Hans Zimmer's fantastic score, with African chants and more orchestral themes integrated to create the perfect atmosphere for the film to unfold in.
His passion for the subject material is clear, beginning with television footage informing us of the conflict, as innocents are killed and the enemies clearly painted. In Tears of the Sun, the US forces and the refugees are the clear heroes, the people the audience are meant to root for. Perhaps this is another product of post-9/11 over-sentimentalism, where America is land of the free and a country that will help anyone in need. Then again, when you see what the rebels do to the innocent civilians, I think anyone would root for the opposing side.
Bruce Willis is more or less on autopilot here as the lead character, not delivering a bad performance but certainly nothing remarkable. Think of an emotionless, determined face throughout and that's pretty much all the acting you get from him; although his comrades certainly respect him and they integrate well together. Speaking of the other soldiers that make up the unit, they all deliver good tough-guy routines, especially Eamonn Walker who is otherwise known as one of The Bill regulars!
One distinct flaw of the film is the lack of character development – they may act well alongside each other as soldiers, but do we ever get to really know the men behind the bravado? No. This leads to the audience not really feeling any empathy for certain characters when they suffer, instead only realising that by losing a man the mission is comprised. Perhaps a longer running time would have allowed Fuqua the muscles to expand and round each character into something more palpable…and this goes for the refugees as well. Something else that I found let the film down was the lack of visceral impact to the action – sure, scenes of innocents being killed and maimed brings about an emotional response, but when the US forces engage the rebels there is a lack of power to the fighting. When compared to something like Black Hawk Down, a film that has clearly influenced Tears of the Sun, the action sequences in it are more powerful and gut-wrenching.
However, these two criticisms aside, the film is indeed worth seeing, if not to witness just how bad the situation is in Africa. As sheer entertainment Tears of the Sun is enjoyable, yet lacking the special something to make it great. Monica Bellucci deserves a special mention as the doctor who becomes the main concern for the US military, as she gives a very watchable performance as a brave and courageous woman who is determined to see her people survive. And as Edmund Burke says, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Released into US cinemas in March 2003, it didn't show on UK screens until September 2003, meaning the delay resulted in the R1 DVD being released way ahead of this disc. And the delay also seems to have resulted in the slight loss of extras between the R1 and the R2 – the latter loses filmographies, some trailers and a writers' observations track. Read on to find out how our stripped and late version compares…
The menus are animated excellently, with footage from the film and the absorbing score playing in the background. They are very easy to navigate.
An outstanding transfer, presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, the ratio of which allows for great scope and vision. The visuals are crystal clear throughout; the colours defined superbly and no sign of bleeding. Flesh tones are natural and I could spot no compression signs or artefacts. My only slight criticism is in one scene, shot at night (which is wonderfully suspenseful in itself!), the picture is a little too dark and at times it's slightly hard to spot what's happening – then again this could have been a deliberate decision by the filmmakers at the time of filming. Aside from that this is reference quality, and a real highlight of the disc.
Dolby Digital 5.1 is the order of the day, and although it starts a little front channel-heavy, it soon turns into a rather spectacular affair, with the rear channels being used extensively in scenes of heavy gunfire. The subwoofer isn't used greatly, but when it is (in a few sequences), your walls will shake! Dialogue is constantly crisp and clear and overall this is an accomplished soundtrack.
We kick off with an informative and insightful audio commentary from director Antoine Fuqua, whose aforementioned passion for the subject is clearly illustrated. Packed with anecdotes and information, this is highly recommended listening on a repeat viewing. The only slight downside is the absence of anyone else – the presence of the writers and/or some of the actors would have made this even better.
More insight is delivered in the 'Africa Fact Track', a pop-up feature that runs throughout the film, giving the viewer information about things such as the conflict and also the training of the US forces seen in the film.
A 14-minute documentary, 'Journey to Safety: Making Tears of the Sun', is included and it's the standard EPK extra that offers little aside from extended backslappings and gushes of how great/talented the cast are. You might get a little bit of extra information about the project's origin and the snippets of interviews with the cast have some good material (such as how some of the cast had to endure a 2-week boot camp!), but on the whole this is fairly lacking.
8 deleted scenes are present, each presented in reasonable widescreen quality, but nothing compared to the excellence of the finished film. They all deserved to be cut, aside from a couple that may have added a little, although fans will no doubt like their inclusion.
A selection of trailers for Columbia Tristar releases round off the package – Tears of the Sun, Bad Boys II, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Hollywood Homicide, S.W.A.T. and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.
A fairly enjoyable action thriller is given good treatment by Columbia Tristar, proving they can churn out good quality discs at a rate of knots. Superb video, very good audio and fairly in-depth extras make this worth a rent at least – when it comes to whether it's worth owning, it's just a matter of whether you think the film deserves repeat viewings…in this reviewer’s opinion, they stretch to two or three. Enjoyable, but forgettable.