Dir: Antoine Fuqua. US. 2003. 118mins

Will they or won't they' Sony Pictures is denying a report in the Los Angeles Times that, due to the unusually high level of anti-American sentiment around the world, the studio plans to delay the international release of its new military-themed action/drama, Tears Of The Sun, in which Bruce Willis leads a small band of Navy SEALs on a rescue mission inside war-torn Nigeria. A fictional tale of heroism, set against an all-too-real backdrop of civil war and ethnic cleansing, the film marks a sincere effort by director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) to engage audiences in a dialogue, whether internal or public, about individual - and collective - moral responsibility in the face of extreme tyranny. It is a worthy theme, but at a time when Washington's approach to international relations is generating deep alarm even among her allies, it may be difficult for audiences to appreciate the film's humanitarian intent. That the film also suffers from flat, undeveloped characters - due in part to rumored clashes between Fuqua and his star over just what kind of picture Tears was supposed to be - poses a secondary problem. That said, the fillm opened well to a largely male demographic in the US last weekend, taking $17.2m from 2,973 sites for a $5,785 site average.

Willis stars as Lieutenant Waters, who is sent into Nigeria with a handful of men to rescue a humanitarian aid worker. But Dr Lena Kendricks (Bellucci), apparently American by marriage, refuses to leave without 70 of her charges, all of who face annihilation at the hands of cut-throat, anti-government rebels. A by-the-book soldier who never gets emotionally involved with assignments, Waters tricks Kendricks into leaving, only to discover that his own conscience won't allow him to leave the helpless locals behind either.

Willis slips into his customary, minimalist, big studio, action figure mode, meaning that any emoting going on inside him is flying far too low under the radar for any camera to pick up. One minute he is abandoning the locals, the next minute he is ordering the helicopter to turn back, but the actor suggests neither an internal struggle nor the moment of revelation.

Poor Bellucci is not even called upon to act. Her underwritten role requires only that she look beautiful and scream occasionally. The glances which pass between her and Waters suggest that at one time the script toyed with the idea of a romance. Leaving it out was a wise decision.

As it is, the film can not seem to decide whether it wants to be a Hollywood-style, action-based tale of heroism or a sobering political drama about the price of turning away. Scenes of Nigerians being raped and murdered are brutal, especially a long sequence in which Waters' men come upon rebels laying waste to a village. For the most part Fuqua keeps the violence real but non-exploitative. Only towards the end does the film slip into the gung-ho, 'they died with their boots on' realm of a typical Hollywood war movie. Given the present international climate, however, it is hard to see the film being taken any other way.

Pro co: Revolution Studios, Michael Lobell Productions, Cheyenne Enterprises Productions
US dist:
Sony Pictures Entertainment
Intl dist:
Columbia TriStar
Exec prod:
Joe Roth

Prods: Michael Lobell, Arnold Rifkin, Ian Bryce
Alex Lasker, Patrick Cirillo
Mauro Fiore
Prod des:
Naomi Shohan
Conrad Buff
Hans Zimmer
Main cast:
Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci, Cole Hauser, Eamonn Walker, Tom Skerritt