Friday, March 07, 2003
Is it any good? Well, yeah, I liked it. It's a solemn, sedate film about a group of Navy Seals rescuing a doctor from ethnic carnage in Nigeria. If I were to include it in the range of recent war films, it's nowhere near as good as Black Hawk Down (a film to which it has some similarities), but infinitely better than Windtalkers. I even liked it more than We Were Soldiers, which shares TotS's sentimentality and heavyhandedness. So what did I like about it?
- *Bruce Willis. He's perfect here, all squint-eyed and decisive, the way that active-duty officers need to be in the movies--think Mel or Clint, and get thee behind me Nicholas Cage.
*The glorious Monica Bellucci. She struggles fiercely with English, but in this case I love the catfight. Her heavy accent makes her performance seem less nuanced than she is in her best French or Italian films. But, even when she's covered in dirt and scabs and the world's baggiest wardrobe, it's near-impossible not to watch her. In my case with a drool cup close by.
*The imagery. The film was shot in Hawaii, and looks about as much like Africa as as an episode of Magnum P.I.. But I forgive the movie for all of that because of its incredibly courageous decision to show Christian Nigerians being massacred by Muslims, and not in a generic way, either: there are crosses and crucifixes and churches in many of the shots. The Seals say Christian prayers over the dying Ibos. And there is one unforgettable scene where a group of Ibos, about to be slaughtered in a Fulani ethnic cleansing action, prepare to meet their deaths chanting and dancing in the traditional African manner. Again, I am stunned to see this from Hollywood. These are scenes that Hollywood has never, ever, had the balls to show us until now--this is the same culture that ruthlessly rewrote history to purge all the Christianity from Amistad, for example. I hate to even have to think this way, but I'm glad that the film was directed by an African American (Antoine Fuqua) so that it's essentially shielded from the corrosive and insidious use of the race card.
*The film's unambiguous faith in essential American goodness. The film has no doubt who the good guys and the bad guys are. No ecumenism, no Kumbaya.
*The film's appreciation of the integrity and dedication of the American military. You can really count on your fingers the number of American films made in the last 30 years where not one person in the military wasn't evil, corrupt, racist, or stupid. This is one of them.
For all that goodness, I fear the tone of TotS may not be seen again much. What I suspect about this film is that it was written or greenlighted not long after 9/11, and the beliefs we see and hear in the film are strongly influenced by that event. When one of the Seals says to a Fulani gunman over the body of one of his victims, "Look at your work, motherfucker" before he kills him--it feels like a 9/11 vengeance fantasy.
But lately it feels like the spell that produced this film has worn off, and Hollywood is tending back to its normal America-hating, moral-relativizing, Stalinist-propagandizing self. The recent release of the quintessential Americaphobic movie of all time, The Quiet American, points to this. So all in all, Tears of the Sun may simply be, in years to come, an oddball film, a pure ideological anomaly.