|Tears of the Sun
starring Bruce Willis and some blacks
Tears of the Sun is one of those what-if-America-had-gone-in-and-saved-some-people military fantasy movies, kind of like Behind Enemy Lines a year ago. In Behind Enemy Lines, Owen Wilson ran around war-torn Serbia and a bunch of Serbian tanks got blown up at the end. In Tears of the Sun, Bruce Willis runs around war-torn Nigeria and a bunch of Nigerian rebels get blown up at the end. Americans get to feel good about what they would have done in some alternate history, and everybody gets to go home.
The problem is, this kind of movie is totally gutless. There's no way, for example, that Tears of the Sun would ever consider facing the true question of African genocide: how can people one day wake up and decide to chop their neighbors to pieces with machetes? That whole thing's a little too yikes!, a little too complex, scary, difficult --and besides, there aren't any Americans in that story. So instead, predictably, TotS gives us an American soldier's eye view of the situation, drained of every scrap of social or political context, reducing the whole thing to Bruce Willis hiking about 30 villagers through the jungle.
TotS, while purporting to care about the Nigerians, actually goes out of its way to portray them as the most anonymous, undifferentiated group of Negroes you'll ever see, an amorphous brown blob of people who need American rescuing. There's zero characterization, none of them have names or personalities --hell, they don't even talk to each other. They troop along behind Bruce Willis as he tries to get them across the border to Cameroon, or just sit there, being filmed, like they're in a World Vision commercial. There are a couple of strong faces in the crowd, but that's about it.
To be fair, it's not as though the film splurges on characterization for any of the main characters, either. Quite the opposite. Bruce Willis is stiff, the doctor he's there to save barely registers, and maybe by the end of the movie we have a dim sense of who the other soldiers are. There's just not a lot of human life in this film, nothing or nobody to care about.
Unlike Behind Enemy Lines, this is not a goofball action movie at heart. No, this is a slow, emotionally dull trudge. And it's dark. Not morally dark, but dark in a "Is that Bruce Willis or a troop of Nigerian rebels?" kind of way. Though there's gunfire and violence, it's uninvolving, superficial. The film shows the aftermath of an ethnic cleansing, but it doesn't have the guts to truly, viscerally horrify us, nor can it affect a detached, documentary tone, so it splits the squishy middle and somehow makes these horrors forgettable. There are piles of bodies, but there's no insight. Who are these people? Why are they doing this? And hey, doesn't Nigeria have a shitload of oil? Tears of the Sun doesn't even pretend to care.
There are other movies that do everything this movie does, and better. For an American military perspective on Africa, check out Black Hawk Down's contextless shitstorm of exhausted American soldiers getting the crap kicked out of them. For a story about US soldiers helping refugees to safety, watch Three Kings and learn some real things about America and Iraq. Tears of the Sun is just masturbatory imaginary self-congratulation whose message is "If we happen to be around, we're gonna save some people!" Bleah.