As the film opens we learn that Nigeria's presidential family has been assassinated and rebel forces have started a bloody cycle of ethnic cleansing Muslims hacking away at Christians. Enter veteran Navy SEAL Lieutenant A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis) and his elite squadron of tactical specialists who receive orders to evacuate all foreign nationals form the country specifically Dr. Kendricks (Monica Bellucci) a priest and a couple of nuns. But when Dr. Kendricks refuses to go without her patients Waters elects to take her and her patients on foot to the Cameroon border with the advancing rebel forces right on their heels. Of course problems arise: One of the patients is a rat and another is the sole survivor of the presidential family making them tastier prey for the army of rebels. But luckily for Christian Nigerians this American battalion cares enough to put humanity before duty saving the day by disregarding orders to remain "disengaged from the conflict." I couldn't help but think how Rwanda could have used an army of one like Bruce Willis during the genocide that killed half a million people.
Willis (Hart's War) is well cast as the tough veteran Navy SEAL but his character is a hard sell. Waters is supposed to be this fiercely loyal lieutenant yet he disobeys orders from his commanding officer at the first sight of ethnic cleansing. Is this the first time this hardened veteran has ever seen war or this deadly phenomenon? It is also difficult to buy Waters as a caring American hero when his dialogue is so over-the-top macho. When someone points out a potential problem with his strategy for example Waters replies "There are lots of possible scenarios and I don't presume to know them all." What great military man would put himself and his men at such risk without considering all the consequences? As Dr. Kendricks Bellucci (Brotherhood of the Wolf) spends most of the film throwing herself at Waters tending to his every wound while profusely thanking him for saving her life. When she's not doing that she's running around the jungle with her shirt unbuttoned to reveal just enough bouncy cleavage. I understand that a film's leading lady cannot look like crap all the time but that Bellucci's mascara and raspberry colored gloss never budged--even after days scurrying through the jungle--is too funny. But hey at least we weren't subjected to a romance between the two.
Director Antoine Fuqua whose last feature was the powerful actioner Training Day delivers a gory war picture with depictions of ethnic cleansing that are hard to watch. In one scene for example marauding soldiers hack off a nursing mother's breasts and she dies in excruciating pain. And although it is slow moving the film has some terrific heart-pounding moments. Some of the best come when the refugees and rebel forces come within a few feet of each other in the dense tropical forest knowing that the sound of a snapping twig could unleash unthinkable violence. But the closer the refugees get to the Cameroon border the more ridiculous this film seems to get. The sight of Waters running across shallow rivers and slippery rocks with an injured Dr. Kendricks slung over his shoulder while simultaneously shooting at the enemy reeks of overdone heroism. It gets even worse as the poor Third World refugees tear-stained cheeks and all profess their love to Waters and Dr. Kendricks for giving a crap about them vowing to never forget them. With an impending war with Iraq on the horizon Tears of the Sun comes off as a jingoistic piece of cinema.