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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Tears of the Sun
Tears of the Sun
Columbia/Tri-Star // R // July 9, 2003
List Price: $27.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted August 17, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

It took a couple of tries before I actually sat down and watched "Tears of the Sun" (a title previously associated with the next "Die Hard" picture) all the way through. Although I didn't care for the film as a whole, that first comment is mainly a knock against the film's opening, which doesn't choose a particularly good way to start things off. The film opens - literally - with a squad of Navy SEALS, lead by Lt. A.K. Waters (Willis), stepping onto the deck of a carrier. They're aparently done with their prior task when they're told that they have to go back into the Nigerian jungle to rescue doctor Lena Kendricks (Monica Bellucci), an American citizen whose facility is about to be overrun by rebels who are trying to take over the country.

Although I've heard of getting right to the main part of a story, this is somewhat ridiculous. We learn nothing about who these soldiers are and don't even really meet most of them before we see them parachuting into the jungle. The film really never develops most of its characters, as I'm not sure if several of them ever even spoke.

Once they find the good doctor - which takes what seems like mere moments - things don't go so well. Despite the warnings of Waters, Hendricks has no intention of leaving. Although he eventually gets her into the plane - forcibly - he has a change of heart when he sees her people on the ground as rescue planes are in the process of taking him off.

So starts a long walk through rebel territory, as the soldiers try to protect the doctor and her patients. Waters occasionally phones his captain (Tom Skerritt), who somehow is able to hear him on the phone while standing on the deck while planes continuously take off behind him. There's really not much of a plot aside from the point A to point B (with quite a few "get the people ready to move"s thrown in along the way), nor does the movie provide much focus on the conflicts currently going on in the country. The screenplay does them no favors, although Willis makes some of the more ripe lines of dialogue work. Skeritt actually says "I don't like this!" in regards to Willis's plans; when questioned by one of the other soldiers on why he disobeyed orders, he essentially tells him, "I'll let you know when I figure that out." The film also stops on occasion for a few Big Emotional Speeches.

Despite some considerable flaws, there were aspects of "Tears of the Sun" that I liked, although they largely reside in the technical aspects of the film. Directed by Antwone Fuqua ("Training Day"), the minimal dialogue and strong visual style combine to form a movie that, despite being reptitive, does occasionally become rather tense and have urgency. Willis is stone-faced, but in a way that's convicing and not occasionally unintentionally silly, as in "Armageddon". Belluci's good, too, although there's not much asked of her besides a few emotional moments.

Although Hans Zimmer's score, Mauro Fiore's moody cinematography and the acting combine to raise the tension every so often, the film really never pulls it together. After a first hour largely composed of Willis, his crew, patients and Belluci walking around the jungle and getting themselves into danger while being persued, I started to give up. I almost felt as if the filmmakers wanted this to be both an action movie and something deeper, but there wasn't enough to the screenplay to make it really into either. There's some good moments scattered throughout "Tears of the Sun", but they never really come together into anything. The screenplay seems to be at fault, as it seems like it could have used at least a couple more rewrites.


VIDEO: "Tears of the Sun" is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film's sleek cinematography and stunning locations translates well to DVD, as the transfer of the film is one of the finest I've seen lately. Mauro Fiore ("Lost Souls")'s cinematography is particularly interesting, as the film keeps the light level to a point where it's not too dark to see anything, but dark enough to make the film's locations appear haunting and menacing. Despite the rather low lighting, sharpness and detail are still strong, and the image even boasts good depth and fine detail throughout much of the running time.

The only flaw that I noticed was the presence of some very, very slight edge enhancement, only glimpsed briefly in a couple of scenes. The print appeared as crisp and clean as one would expect from a recent release, while no pixelation or other artifacts were noticed. The film's subdued color palette seemed accurately rendered, with only a few brighter colors occasionally showing through. A very nice transfer.

SOUND: "Tears of the Sun" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 by Columbia/Tristar Home Video. The film's soundtrack is generally what one would expect from the material. The surrounds kick in fully during the action scenes, while the walking sequences - which take up most of the movie - offer some rather decent (but not remarkable) jungle ambience in the surrounds. Although not an official EX soundtrack, enabling the back surround did add to the soundtrack's envelopment, both in the quiet moments and the action that comes later in the picture. Hans Zimmer's melancholy tribal score plays a fine part, sounding especially deep and dynamic on a few occasions in the picture. Dialogue remains crisp and natural-sounding throughout. Deep bass can often be heard throughout.


Commentary: director Antwone Fuqua offers a feature-length audio commentary for the picture. The director provides a decent commentary, chatting about the casting of the picture, working in some difficult conditions, production concerns, the boot camp the actors had to go through and other issues. A few stretches of the commentary drag and there's some moments of silence, but there's enough interesting tidbits here and there (some hints about the reported problems and disagreements during production are offered, but nothing too detailed) to make the commentary worthwhile.

Also: A subtitle fact track about Africa is offered, as is a short audio interview (about 20 minutes) with the writers is offered. Several deleted scenes (without commentary) do provide some interesting backstory and character development, although there are some moments that don't work. A 15-minute documentary provides a decent overview of the production and has the principal players discussing what they were trying for. "Voices of Africa" features interviews with citizens of Africa, who share their stories of the terrible conditions in Africa. The accidents may be a little tough to understand, but these stories were the most interesting and informative supplement on the DVD.

Rounding out the supplemental section are trailers for "Tears of the Sun", "Anger Management", "Bad Boys II", "Basic", "Black Hawk Down", "Charlie's Angels II", "Hollywood Homicide", "Radio" and "S.W.A.T.", as well as an interactive map of Africa.

Final Thoughts: "Tears of the Sun" manages a few tense moments and respectable performances, but the story is surprisingly thin and the characters poorly developed. Pacing also becomes an issue, as while the film occasionally starts to become involving, there's also some noticably slow stretches. The studio's DVD provides some fine supplements, along with very good audio/video quality. Maybe worth a rental for those interested, but there's plenty of other choices for films in the genre, including the remarkable 3-DVD edition of "Black Hawk Down" released this past week.

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