Courtesy Bumble Ward & Associates
Tears of the Sun is set in a corner of the world where lives are bleak enough to make God weep. It's not a typical Hollywood neighborhood. But director Antoine Fuqua peers into the shadows and emerges with a simple plea: "Try to help."
As NPR's Liane Hansen reminds us, Fuqua's directorial breakthrough was Training Day. The film earned Denzel Washington an Oscar for his portrayal of a charismatic Los Angeles vice cop who takes partner Ethan Hawke through an escalating series of moral and ethical challenges.
Tears of the Sun focuses on a Navy SEAL unit operating in Nigeria and stars Bruce Willis, who negotiates similarly raw emotional terrain.
It's a journey that draws — much as Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam odyssey Apocalypse Now did — on the Joseph Conrad novel Heart of Darkness.
In their conversation for Weekend Edition Sunday, Fuqua tells Hansen he was attracted to two chief aspects of the story:
"The opportunity to expose some of the events and the atrocities that take place in Africa... also, an opportunity to shine some light on the special forces... guys who go into these places and face these situations."
The latter emphasis has left some reviewers with what Fuqua says is the wrong impression about Tears of the Sun.
"It's misinterpreted as a pro-war film," he says. "It's really about man's inhumanity to man... that's really the simple point of the story, is to try to help... I'm not trying to say one way or another that we should go to war."
Hansen observes that some scenes in Tears of the Sun are hard to watch. It's a film informed by true accounts of atrocities in Nigeria, Sierra Leone and other African nations enduring vicious and bloody civil wars.
"I don't think it could have been brutal enough, truthfully," Fuqua says of his film. "The things that inspired me were much more horrifying." But ultimately, he says: "I think I got the point across."
Young actors from Sudan, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and the Congo lend authenticity to the movie. Some were only weeks removed from their own experience in Africa, Fuqua says.
In some respects, Fuqua's next project is even more ambitious. He's working on another treatment of the legend of King Arthur, a big-budget epic for producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
Hansen asks Fuqua what he makes of the leap he's made from making commercials to filming a blockbuster.
"Whenever it gets overwhelming, I just sit back and say 'just focus on the work,'" he says. "At the end of the day, that's all people care about."