In yet another shameless attempt for Netflix to notice me, I was perusing through some of the titles recommended to me and stumbled into the 2003 movie that, I admit, I kinda forgot about.
Another confession: I wasn't even going to write a review for Tears of the Sun, either. However, when I googled around for some behind the scenes and interviews, my interest in the flick grew. The momentum of research evolved and eventually I landed on the Rotten Tomatoes page. After which, my inner angsty contrarian teenager got all fuggin' cranky.
A paltry 33% rating by the critics, 69% by the fans. Now, grand disparities between critic and fan ratings on Rotten Tomatoes certainly aren't rare, but they're quickly becoming a pet hobby of mine. The fact that this same crew of folks gave the dumpster ride of Captain Marvel a 79% while the fans could only muster a 45% shows quite a lot. The main gripe by the 'professionals?' Heh, do you need to guess?
Oh boy, here we go...
Ron Gonsalves on TotS: "The movie regales us with the heroics of a (mostly) white American platoon picking off anonymous black savages." Ron Gonsalves on Coming 2 America: "It's hard to argue that Coming 2 America is a "better" movie, but I liked it more; it's warmer, its direction more dynamic, its aesthetic much more fluid and colorful. And it's actually about something."
Coming 2 America fan score: 38% Scott Weinberg on TotS: "A huge screaming bore of a war flick with a big plate of pretentiousness on the side." Scott Weinberg on (and I'm not making this up) Godzilla vs Kong: "has all the peaks and valleys of its predecessors - but it also has some of the craziest large-scale kaiju madness... ever!" Phillip Martin of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on TotS: "...an unapologetic paean to the nobility of the American foot solider."
Phil on Peter Rabbit 2: "A triumph of his particular artistic process. Rather than creating a script, casting to type, and rehearsing as an ensemble, the heady British director eschewed such commonalities... Unconventional it might be, but there's no arguing the results."
Prairie Miller: "Movies like Tears of the Sun, which are not up to getting immersed in current events, should just stay away from history entirely." Africa in 2003: Darfur, the Rwanda trails, The second Congo War... Michael Drakulich: "Tears of the Sun is great PR for United States foreign policy and its military. Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld could not have crafted a more pro-United States script, nor could they have hoped for a more valorous portrayal of its soldiers.'" Then said of Hotel Rwanda: "This was a story that needed to be told because the ethnic war that raged in Rwanda in 1994 is often forgotten by the rest of the world."
Andrew Manning: "Dumbed-down, tree-hugging propaganda trying to masquerade as an action film." That last one actually just confused me...
Why the Hate?
Tears of the Sun is like a 6/10 movie if you're someone who happens to be into action/military movies. The writing beats and character motivations are pretty stereotypical of its time, but overall the movie is a competent and sound production.
African violence is also something that wasn't really that broached as a subject, yet. The only movie I can find that deals with the stark horrors of the violence committed on the African continent, in what I'd consider our contemporary era, is Black Hawk Down; which predated TotS by two years. That movie is unapologetically flag-waving and patriotic, yet still receives praise to this day from the professional critics. Why doesn't BHD get the same retrospective hatred? The answer, I think, is what this movie is at it's core: it's still a Bruce Willis action movie.
This movie really tries hard to tackle the subject of genocide on the dark continent and to do it in a respectful, serious manner. Many of the extras playing refugees were, in fact, actual and previous refugees. There is an account of one of the extras breaking down and crying at how real the set felt to the tragedy that befell his previous home. That's heavy stuff.
The director treated everything with respect. So did the actors, the writers, and the producers. However, it's hard to get past the idea that the movie title was a working subtitle for another Die Hard movie.
Think of it this way: Imagine the death of a President occurs and the eulogy is tasked to the cast of Saturday Night Live. They could take things with grave seriousness, do their research, pay their respects, and try to deliver the eulogy as proper and noble as they could... but in the back of your mind you'll never lose sight of the fact that LIVE FROM NEW YORK, IT'S SATURDAY NIGHT!!!
Add in the hindsight clarity that one is given from the sort of movies on the subject that follow, like Hotel Rwanda and Blood Diamond, and the cheese factor of Hollywood pyro budgets juxtaposed to the inhuman humanity of the setting really becomes evident. But, I'm willing to bet that was more a product of the time and what movie-goers were expecting than some light-hearted want for big FX in a serious movie.
Though, this does make me even more irritated with the criticism others give. It's absolute armchair psychology. The ego and self-importance required to truly think that they knew the intent and hearts of everyone playing a major role in this project is pretty maddening. When you check out the interviews and BTS materials, there is no mistaking that everyone on that set had real honesty and pure intent in what this movie was trying to do. Questioning the execution of the subject is one thing. Implying a lack of integrity, however? Ugh. I'm typing angry, now...
Subjectivity vs Objectivity in Movie Reviews
Here's a derailed mini-essay on how I really like to see movies reviewed:
I do believe that there is a level of objectivity to creating compelling, large-market screenplays. You can ask yourself questions like "Did the character overcome their problem?" "Did the movie convey its message or accomplish its goal to the audience clearly?" "Was the writing for the characters consistent or did they betray themselves constantly?" "How was the pacing? Did the editing movie on too quickly or linger on too long?" There is, of course, a level of opinion to everything. However, if you compare the dialogue of Batman Begins to The Dark Knight I can promise you that you'll have a pretty fucking hard time finding someone who prefers the more straight-forward, quick-cut, "here's how I feel in a nutshell" dialogue of Begins to the incredible "Show, Don't Tell" characterizations and monologues of the Dark Knight. There are a lot of these rules and guidelines in movies that folks who endeavor on the past-time of opining on them can use to lead themselves to good conclusions. Liking or not liking something is a factor, but there are aspect from which one can detach themselves from their little gut feeling to have a more comprehensive view of films.
One of the most infuriating avenues by which pure subjectivity clouds someone's judgement is politics, especially when a review is large enough to use as a platform to further one's own virtuous image.
What's wrong with TotS having a positive image of the American military, exactly? Black Hawk Down certainly does. So does just about every single war movie. Am I to adopt the position that having encouraged feelings about our defensive capabilities makes me a bad person? What exactly is the point of calling the 'patriotic' feel of this movie into question besides pure political positioning and rhetoric? The movie doesn't even mention American doctrine, politics, or involvement in Africa at large. It's nearly entirely about the characters in a microcosm and how their hearts are turned from "only the mission" killers towards those with compassion for the victimized. How one can watch this movie and take away from it some sort of camouflage and Bud Light celebratory themes, I struggle to explain.
Especially when American Sniper is lauded by reviewers at large despite turning a verified liar into the biggest Republican and Rural deity since Dale Earnhardt, launching their criticism at this movie just seems like they're picking on small fish for a soundbite, regardless of trivial items like merit or truthfulness.
I suppose this is how we arrive in our modern era where outright terribly written movies are given great reviews because of their "themes" or because they start "important conversations." Discussions of quality are absolutely backseat in concern to discussions about how "brave" a subject matter is. It's like when your parents put your bullshit crayon scribblings on the fridge when you were 5. It's not because it was good, it was because they had a vested personal interest in seeing you grow and succeed. Reviewers of a certain political or editorial bent non-conspicuously seem to praise movies that support it and decry movies that don't.
The Silver Lining
Perhaps a good reminder to myself is that those who enjoy these kind of movies don't really give a shit what professional reviewers have to say about it. Rotten Tomatoes makes that more evident by the month.
Hell, super critical reviews in general often fall on deaf ears. If they focus on more objective items like poor editing, large flaws in script continuity, or plain bad lighting (GoT S8E3) the bad press is often accepted, yet often still discarded. I'm not a fan of bad reviews, personally. I just don't see what the reviewer gets out of it. I don't do bad reviews on this site because I don't enjoy writing them. I have a goal of sharing on a love for this shit and going out of my way to dissuade you from engaging in it runs counter to my desires. Tactical Tales isn't trying to become some revered giant of opinion in which directors and writers hope to gain some praise from. My sense of self worth just isn't wrapped up in needing others to need their approval from me.
Ergo, I'm not mad this review got derailed into my pissy rant about modern movie reviewers. If I watched TotS with Tactical Tales readers we would all much more likely revel in some of the cool trivia about the movie, talk about the guns, and find the positives. Likely due to the fact that if we did gather and watch it, it would have been under the mutual journey to have a good time and share in the subject and media we love together.
Thank you all for being so cool where so many fail to likewise be, and thank you most for reading.