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One of my favourite films of the past decade would have to be the multi-award winning Training Day. This gritty cop drama had all the ingredients of a great modern classic, with solid acting, an intricately crafted plot and plenty of action to boot. A large part of that films success is attributed to the Oscar winning performance from Denzel Washington, and rightly so; however the film was also held together in part by the solid directing from the reasonably inexperienced Antoine Fuqua. When I heard that he was teaming up with Bruce Willis for his next project – Tears of the Sun, I could hardly contain myself. But was I a little too enthusiastic for my own good? It’s time to find out…

Tears of the Sun
Movie
Bruce Willis plays loyal veteran Navy S.E.A.L. Lt. AK. Waters, a hardened fighting machine that rarely strays from orders. However, things are set to change when he is sent on a mission straight into the heart of war-torn Africa. It turns out that Nigeria is knee deep in a civil war, with rebel fighters taking over the predominantly Christian government and replacing it with a new Muslim regime. As a result, anybody associated with the old regime is pretty much subject to summary execution. Waters is given the task of locating, and evacuating ‘critical’ personnel from the area including the stunning Dr. Lena Hendricks played by the quite wonderful Monica Bellucci. Accompanying Waters on the mission is his combat hardened elite squad, made up of seven men in total. On arrival at the extraction point it turns out that Dr Lena Hendricks is a little reluctant to leave to say the least. Following some delicate (ish) sweet-talking from Lieutenant Waters she agrees to leave; but only on the condition that she can take her patients with her. Despite his reservations, Waters agrees and the Special Forces team and ‘cargo’ set off to rendezvous with the evacuating choppers…

On arrival at the landing zone, Lena Hendricks quickly comes to realise that Waters isn’t exactly a man true to his word. The furious doctor is quickly bundled onto a waiting helicopter along with the Special Forces team and off they go – without the patients that Waters had promised to save. Just as you begin to think you have witnessed the shortest two hour film in history, Waters has a change of heart and calls upon the chopper to turn itself around, contrary to his orders. He fills the helicopters with as many of the patients as possible and decides to escort the remaining ones to a safer point of evacuation on foot. However; Waters has directly violated his orders and his superior officer refuses to risk further helicopters in an evacuation. Lt. Waters is forced to escort the group through dangerous stretches of jungle, all the whilst being pursued by a rebel militia group, with only one goal in mind….

I wasn’t really sure what to expect as I sat down to watch Tears of the Sun. Was it going to be a realistic portrayal of modern day warfare ala Black Hawk Down, or was it just another excuse to blow stuff up? I was also dreading the possibility that it might be a combination of the two like the highly disappointing Windtalkers. John Woo didn’t seem to know what direction to take with that one and the movie suffered heavily because of it. Thankfully the same can’t be said about Tears of the Sun. Antoine Fuqua has crafted a realistic, and often brutal portrayal of war which succeeds predominantly because the action is positioned firmly in second place. Yes, the action sequences are certainly impressive at times but the story and characters are never compromised because of them. Good work Mr Fuqua.

Tears of the Sun
A realistic movie demands realistic performances, and thankfully the major players all deliver their best. Bruce Willis first and foremost settles comfortably into the role as Lt. Waters; perhaps as his character is almost identical to his role as Colonel McNamara in Hart’s War. Willis is probably one of very few actors today that can deliver even questionable dialogue convincingly. Any other actor would probably get laughed off the screen but thankfully Willis keeps everything together nicely. Not that poor dialogue plagues the film that much, but it certainly crops up on occasion. Overall, another solid, well tuned performance from Willis. Monica Bellucci also makes her presence known as Dr. Lena Hendricks. This incredibly talented actress has only recently broken into the more mainstream projects and it’s great to see her finally get the credit she deserves. If you liked her in The Matrix Reloaded, you should definitely checkout her performance here. Good stuff. One has to wonder why she doesn’t button up her blouse though!

No film is perfect and Tears of the Sun is by no means the exception. For starters the film is based around a fictional engagement and therefore if you’re expecting a history lesson, this isn’t going to be your cup of tea. It really is a bit of a missed opportunity given the wealth of genuine events that have taken place in Africa. The filmmakers themselves state on the disc that they wanted to make a film about the circumstances in Africa yet the film could essentially be based on any conflict in any region of the world; there aren’t really any real world events to cling on to. Another disappointment is that the film does descend, albeit briefly into action movie territory towards the end of the picture. There seems to be a reasonable amount of bullet dodging from Willis at times, which does spoil the otherwise powerful climax. Finally, I should also pickup on the film score by Hans Zimmer. This is a great Middle Eastern sounding piece that unfortunately on occasion seems to drown out the rest of the onscreen action. There were times when I thought silence would have been far more poignant yet the score maintains its highest presence throughout.

Tears of the Sun
Video
Columbia Tristar are normally the best when it comes to movie transfers and thankfully they’ve done the job once more with Tears of the Sun. The disc receives a 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation and it really is a superb looking transfer. I’m not joking when I say that this transfer could almost be that of a Superbit release; everything is crystal clear with no obvious visual blemishes or signs of edge enhancement. The only fault I can really pickup on is some slight grain in archive footage that is used on occasion, particularly in the starting sequences and the shot of the two FA/18 aircraft in the closing scenes of the film. I should also mention that the director has taken the choice of using various filters to alter the appearance of the film stock. This is intentional and will therefore not reflect my overall marking. All said, a very nice transfer.

Audio
Tears of the Sun carries both English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks and both pack a real punch. If you’re a fan of bass then this one is almost certain to tickle your fancy. My windows were quite literally rattling throughout the duration of some of the more intense battle sequences, and at one point I actually had to turn the volume down a notch or two. The surrounds are also put to good use with every single channel being given something important to do. Particularly impressive were some of the quieter jungle sequences; it really is quite eerie hearing animal noises cropping up all around the room! My only complaint with the track would be that on occasion the voices of the cast are drowned out by background noise, particularly during the helicopter sequences. I guess that’s pretty realistic but doesn’t really do much to further the plot if you can’t hear what everyone’s saying! Not a major complaint though by any means and overall this is another solid Columbia Tristar soundtrack.

Extras
Although Tears of the Sun wasn’t a huge hit theatrically, Columbia Tristar has given the disc a decent splattering of extras. First up is an audio commentary with director Antoine Fuqua. This is certainly one of the better commentaries I’ve heard of late as Fuqua offers a pretty honest rundown on the trials and tribulations of filming a Hollywood picture. One thing that must have been incredibly bizarre at the time was the fact that two African relations that thought each other were dead coincidently met on the set of the film! What are the odds of that? If you like the film, you should definitely check this one out. Also included on the disc is an audio commentary with writers Alex Lasker and Patrick Cirillo. This commentary naturally focuses on how the film was crafted from its original conception and is, like with the Fuqua commentary pretty interesting. You can tell from that the two guys are really interested in the subject material so it’s fascinating to hear why they took particular decisions that helped craft Tears of the Sun. Again, thumbs up for this one. Completing the extras that run alongside the movie is the Africa Fact Track. This is a fascinating little feature that displays facts in a small box which relate directly to what you’re currently seeing onscreen. The facts themselves vary immensely, from what guns particular members of the SEAL squad are carrying to the fact that Hans Zimmer used singers from the stage version of The Lion King for the music! Again, interesting stuff though the facts don’t always display long enough on the screen so you can miss things if you aren’t quick!

Tears of the Sun
Next we have a featurette entitled Journey to Safety: Making Tears of the Sun which runs to around fifteen minutes in total. This is a pretty standard featurette that intersperses interviews with the main cast with clips from the film. We get to learn a little about how the cast trained to become SEALS though the emphasis is definitely on the word little! It would have been nice to hear about the music by Hans Zimmer but this isn’t mentioned at all unfortunately. I would also advise you not to watch this before seeing the film as plenty of spoilers are enclosed within. Following on from that is perhaps the most interesting part of the disc, entitled Voices of Africa. This feature includes eight interviews with African refugees and runs to several minutes in total. Although the film didn’t really give much in the way of Africa’s back-story, it’s nice that they included interviews like this which help fill in a lot of the gaps. It really is genuinely heartbreaking to hear some of the stories of these people and hopefully a film will one day pickup on things like this to highlight the suffering people go through daily. Unfortunately, Tears of the Sun isn’t it.

Completing the package are deleted scenes, an interactive map of Africa and trailers. There are eight deleted scenes in total, all of which are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. There are a few surprisingly decent scenes included, some of which shed a little light on the rebels. The theatrical cut of the film turns the rebels into little more than cannon fodder; we don’t learn anything about the mentality of the soldiers. The scene ‘Terwase Addresses Rebel Soldiers’ helps to shed a little light on their motivations and it’s a genuine disappointment that they felt it necessary to cut it. The deleted scenes run to around twenty minutes in total. Next we have the Interactive Map of Africa which is really little more than a picture of Africa with some text based information on it. There are ten pages of text in total. Finishing things up is a selection of trailers for Tears of the Sun, Anger Management, Bad Boys 2, Basic, Black Hawk Down, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Hollywood Homicide, Radio and SWAT. I’m a big fan of theatrical trailers so it’s great to see all of these presented in anamorphic widescreen. Overall, a pretty comprehensive extras package for a one-disc release.

Tears of the Sun
Overall
Tears of the Sun is a good, if a little disappointing entry into the war movie genre. The pacing of the film is at times a little too slow, but that can be forgiven with the great performances held within. Columbia Tristar has put together another solid DVD with a practically flawless transfer and a bass infested soundtrack. Extras are also in abundance although some of the extras weren’t quite what they could have been. The audio commentaries are without a doubt the most welcome addition to the disc and I don’t doubt that I’ll be in line for Fuqua’s next directorial venture.


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