Running Time: 118 mins
Rated: MA 15+
This is a very watchable action adventure, probably because it is almost old-fashioned in its linear storytelling and in its emotional pull as we watch a rescue mission turn into a dangerous chase and pursuit. It is the kind of story that they told on screen, especially in British films of the 1950s.
However, the location is modern-day Africa, specifically Nigeria, and the setting is a military coup and a civil war with the rebels executing the president and his family. While this may not be Nigeria, it is true of several African countries, especially in West Africa and in the Congo region. One of the questions about the reception of this film is its post Iraq War release. It seems a tribute to American troops coming in to rescue people from tyrants and save the day, especially through firepower. (A film to compare notes with is Black Hawk Down, set in Somalia in the early 1990s.)
Bruce Willis, looking like Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, leads a crack squad of military who specialise in undercover missions. This time they are to bring out non-Europeans, specifically an Italian doctor (Monica Bellucci), the Italian mission priest and two Irish nuns. In the event the priest and nuns refuse to leave and the doctor is forced out but not before asking for a number of the refugees from the rebels to be flown to safety with her. Orders are clear and applied objectively. However, Willis and his men have a change of heart and the film turns into a chase, with the harassed group trying to reach the Cameroon border.
There are some violence scenes of cruelty to men, women and children in the mission, including the beheading of the priest, as well as a massacre in an allegedly sympathetic village hiding the president's surviving son. There is also a commando raid as the Americans kill the rebels committing the atrocities. The vivid presentation of these sequences is certainly far stronger than what we can see in films of the 50s.
The film raises political issues of sovereignty of states and intrusion or invasion by foreign troops, the precarious politics of some African countries, war crimes and justice for the innocent victims. It is pleasing to see in a film of 2003, a sympathetic picture of a contemporary mission with a contemporary priest and sisters. The film was directed by Antoine Fuqua who directed Denzel Washington in Training Day.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is the International President of SIGNIS: the World Association for Catholic Communications and an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.