Undermined by Bruce Willis's one-note performance and its own unresolved political underpinnings, action director Antoine Fuqua's bid to make a serious drama about moral responsibility nevertheless has honorable aspirations, even as it becomes mired in mainstream movie conventions. Set in Nigeria during a fictitious military coup by Muslim rebels who've seized power by murdering the country's democratically elected president and his family, it charts the moral awakening of by-the-book Lt. A.K. Waters (Willis). Waters and his SEALS are ordered into the Nigerian jungle to get the white people out: First and foremost Dr. Lena Kendricks (Monica Bellucci), an American by marriage, and, if possible, three European religious-aid workers (Fionnula Flanagan, Cornelia Hayes O'Herlihy, Pierrino Mascarino). Kendricks and company are easily located, running a Christian mission clinic directly in harm's way. But Kendricks refuses to leave unless Waters also evacuates the compound's able-bodied Nigerian residents, and Father Gianni and the nuns refuse to go at all they're bound to stay with the wounded and infirm, come what may. Waters agrees to Kendricks's conditions but fully intends to abandon her charges at the first opportunity; he undergoes a change of heart after coming face to face with the horror the horror of rebel barbarity. Defying orders and without official support, Waters and his compassionate warriors undertake to march the exhausted refugees through the mountains and across the Cameroon border to some measure of safety. Screenwriters Alex Lasker and Patrick Cirillo began writing in 1995, inspired by Steve McQueen's THE SAND PEBBLES (1966) and laboring under the shadow of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which came on the heels of the disastrous American engagement in Somalia dramatized in BLACK HAWK DOWN (2001). While films from countries like the former Yugoslavia where decades of chaos breed familiarity with day-to-day life amid anarchy often regard efforts to maintain personal integrity in a grotesquely compromised world as the stuff of pitch-black comedy, American filmmakers generally lack the moral authority to laugh at the nuances of atrocity. Hollywood films too often succumb to cliched outrage, scales dropping from American eyes under the pressure of foreigners' attenuated affliction (David O. Russell's bitterly funny THREE KINGS is a notable exception). Ultimately, Fuqua's film is about privileged Americans getting a snootful of other people's misery, embodied in the stoic faces of suffering Africans (some of them real-life refugees from Liberia, Congo, the Sudan and other embattled countries) grateful to finally have American kick-ass on their side.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: R
- Review: Undermined by Bruce Willis's one-note performance and its own unresolved political underpinnings, action director Antoine Fuqua's bid to make a serious drama about moral responsibility nevertheless has honorable aspirations, even as it becomes mired in mai… (more)