"Tears of the Sun" (Distributor), 118 minutes, R
Directed by Antoine Fuqua.
Written by Alex Lasker and Patrick Cirillo.
Bruce Willis: Lt. A.K. Waters
Monica Bellucci: Dr. Lena Hendricks
Thomas Hibbs, who reviews films for National Review Online, among other venues, is one of the most prescient critics around. His Shows About Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture from The Exorcist to Seinfeld is an unusually perceptive work. And he works his same magic with Antoine Fuqua's "Tears of the Sun." Hibbs affords many an insight, but his conclusion is that the movie is "unthinking religious romanticism" that wavers between "seeing American imperialism as evil and as the only possible source of salvation for otherwise helpless Africans." Hibbs is right about "incredible plot sequences" and "incoherent platitudes." This is a Hollywood product. But there is more to the movie than he allows.
A Navy SEAL team led by Bruce Willis is ordered to escort an American doctor (Monica Bellucci) and a priest and nuns out of a Nigerian village threatened by Muslim rebels. They wind up taking the doctor and her patients and some other refugees with them, through the jungle and into Cameroon. An air rescue is too hazardous to attempt.
In fact, what Willis's Lieutenant Waters experiences is a knowledge of America. God did not abandon Africa, as Waters scoffs early in the movie; He allows Africa to be the scene where Waters and his men gradually learn about the purpose of their terrifying capacity to kill their enemies. Africa is not the heart of darkness; it becomes the place for their enlightenment. As Hibbs again rightly observes, "Tears of the Sun" "skirts the tough prudential issues of who, where, and to what extent America might effectively combat such atrocities" as we see portrayed. Sent to rescue a few Americans from the village of St. Michael, Waters has become a St. Michael.
In "Tears of the Sun" we see the first step in increasing American consciousness about their role in the world—to rediscover our founding principle that "all men are created equal." It does not answer all questions about foreign policy, of course. The equality principle asks us to be as tough-minded as Waters, as open to the possibility of those in Africa living happy lives as Americans, which is what his SEALs discover. It is precisely the issue we face in disarming Iraq and assuring it will not be a threat to our interests. After all, American interest in Nigeria rests on facts beyond the presence of Americans in it. That aircraft carrier wasn't off the coast of Nigeria simply to rescue a few fellow citizens.
"The Russian Ark" (Wellspring, 96 minutes, NR, limited release) is a romp through the St. Petersburg Hermitage art museum, brought to life in one long, uninterrupted scene. (The film required only three takes to make, all done in the one day filmmakers had the museum for shooting.) We are reminded throughout that St. Petersburg was a city build above a swamp. We see Catherine the Great desperately searching for a restroom. The Russian Court greets an ambassador. Czar Nicholas and his family assemble for a meal. A grand ball concludes our tour. The old themes of Russian inferiority to the West arise again and again. Russian greatness and civilization, such as they are, lie in the past, and they belong in a museum. But a clever filmmaker can revive the past for us to contemplate once more. One leaves wondering just what President Bush saw when he claimed to have peered into Vladimir Putin's soul?
Those delighted by "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" might enjoy a movie that might have been called "My Lean, Mean Hindu Hitching"—"Monsoon Wedding" (USA Films, 113 minutes, R, now available on video). Knowledge of India helps figure out what's going on, but the characters reflect universal notions about marriage and love, and the meaning of westernization for a traditional society. Well worth renting.