Political Film Society - Newsletter #163 - March 20, 2003



March 20, 2003


 

Tears of the SunA 21ST CENTURY RAMBO STOPS ETHNIC CLEANSING IN TEARS OF THE SUN
Tears of the Sun, directed by Antoine Fuqua, is about a rescue operation in Nigeria. A news broadcast begins the film, reporting that a civil war has broken out, with the Moslem North engaging in ethnic cleansing of the Christian South, following the assassination of the democratically-elected president. Four American missionaries at a medical facility are in jeopardy, so Captain Bill Rhodes (played by Tom Skerritt) orders A. K. Waters (played by Bruce Willis) to extract all four, an operation that requires a squad of Navy Seals to be dropped near the medical facility and subsequently picked up at a landing area. When the Seals arrive to evacuate the missionaries, Dr. Lena Kendricks (played by Monica Bellucci) refuses to go unless the Nigerians hospitalized under her care go along, and the other Americans insist on staying. After a helicopter picks up Dr. Kendricks and the squad, the sight of those who are being abandoned transforms Waters. He orders the return of the helicopter, whereupon Dr. Kendricks, Waters, and the crew disembark, reload with the weakest patients, and Waters is prepared instead to lead Dr. Kendricks and fifty or so Nigerians who are not in the best of health on foot to sanctuary in nearby Cameroon. Waters persuades Rhodes that he is fulfilling the goal of the mission, but through different means. The trek through the jungle is difficult. At one point they observe ethnic cleansing in a village, whereupon the Seals proceed to kill the Nigerian cleansers to stop the carnage.

That a mere rescue operation has the firepower to fight a minor battle may seems odd, but in time the squad takes on an entire regiment that is closely tracking the fleeing group because a traitor in the group is carrying a tracking device. Dr. Kendricks foolishly had been withholding information from Waters that one of the party seeking sanctuary is the son of the deposed president; having killed the president and all members of his family but the son, the Nigerian rebels are intent on finishing the job at any cost. There is no suspense about the ending, in which American helicopters arrive to evacuate the president's son, Dr. Kendricks, Waters, and what is left of the rescue squad. Inexplicably, most of those who made the trek remain in an unmanned refugee camp on the Cameroon side of the border. Dr. Kendricks hugs wounded Waters in the end as a brave soldier who has broken the rules to do his humanitarian duty. But Willis's laconic Rambo role clearly out-shouts the unspoken message that Washington should pay more attention to ethnic cleansing in Africa. Of course, helicopter missions could have evacuated all patients from the hospital earlier in the film, so one question is why Rhodes blocked that scenario. Although Dr. Kendricks refers to the more recent civil war in Sierra Leone, where events are closer to the Tears of the Sun script, director Fuqua chose Nigeria, presumably because his crystal ball says that the 1967-1970 civil war in that country may reemerge to challenge the government that was democratically elected in 1999 and faces the voters again in April elections, after nearly four years and 10,000 deaths due to a variety of causes. The film ends with the familiar Edmund Burke quote, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Yet the Frontline documentary The Triumph of Evil (1999), about the Rwanda genocide, makes that point far more convincingly. MH