Fuqua’s sci-fi action flick “Infinite,” which debuted on streamer Paramount Plus last week, follows two competing groups of reincarnated warriors who carry their memories from life to life: the Believers, who understand their power as a means of helping humanity, and the Nihilists, who hope to bring about the end of all life so as to stop their endless rebirths.
“Improving the human condition. Sometimes you do it by painting a chapel ceiling,” Kovic (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) says while giving a tour of the Believers’ armory. “Yeah. And sometimes you drop them from a mile out,” Evan (Mark Wahlberg) replies, caressing a heavy-duty sniper rifle.
The timing of their delivery makes Evan’s sentiment seem like a joke, but the stakes are deadly serious. Given that the villainous Nihilist Bathurst (Chiwetel Ejiofor, having a tremendously good time in a bushy beard and three-piece suit) is dead set on acquiring a device that would allow him to unravel the DNA of every living thing on Earth, dropping him from a mile out would, in fact, improve the human condition. Or at least ensure it continues.
Fuqua, Wahlberg and a sniper rifle have teamed up to make this argument before. In 2007’s “Shooter,” the tremendously named Bob Lee Swagger (Wahlberg) retires from the Marines after a peacekeeping mission goes bad. Living the mountain-man lifestyle, Swagger is described by Col. Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) as “a man with a history of duty and patriotism. Not as punch lines, but as core beliefs.”
Those beliefs are manipulated by the dreaded military-industrial complex, but they are never denigrated or treated with ironic disregard. Instead, Fuqua’s scorn is reserved for realists who would sacrifice a village in the name of order, an idea defended by the calculating Sen. Charles F. Meachum (the recently deceased Ned Beatty). At the film’s end, Swagger — with the tacit approval of the sitting attorney general, who says the courts cannot bring Meachum or Johnson to justice — takes matters into his own hands on U.S. soil to make things right.
And then there’s “Tears of the Sun,” which arrived roughly 18 months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and offers a straightforward brief on the righteousness of U.S. military might and the need — nay, the duty — to project that power in a way that improves the human condition.
Set during a fictional civil war and ethnic cleansing in Nigeria, “Tears of the Sun” follows Lt. A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis) and his special ops team as they try to exfiltrate doctor Lena Fiore Kendricks (Monica Bellucci). She refuses to leave without the people under her care, so Waters promises to take anyone who can move — a pledge he can’t actually fulfill. The wounded are left in the middle of a field as he, his team and the doctor chopper out.
But after seeing what the marauding rebels did to the people who remained in the encampment — bodies, bloody and hacked apart, strewn about — he returns to those he left, vowing to get them to safety in Cameroon. And after happening upon another episode of ethnic cleansing during their march to the border, Waters and his team disregard the rules of engagement and unleash hell upon a band of murderers, mutilators and rapists.
The violence is cathartic, a spurt of righteous ferocity that calls to mind anger over international impotence in the face of the horrors perpetrated in Rwanda, Burundi and elsewhere.
Fuqua’s “Equalizer” films and his “Magnificent Seven” remake have a similar thematic underpinning. But I love “Tears of the Sun” because, in addition to being a taut, well-acted action-chase movie, it is almost painfully earnest. This is a film, after all, that closes with a title card citing Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” It feels like a cinematic counterpart to Samantha Power’s “A Problem From Hell,” the section of which on Rwanda ended by suggesting “one mechanism for altering the calculus of U.S. leaders would be to make them publicly or professionally accountable for inaction.”
Fuqua’s oeuvre is a reminder that in a world rife with not only horrible atrocities such as those currently taking place in Tigray, but also potential flashpoints in Ukraine, Taiwan and elsewhere, there remains only one nation capable of organizing the sort of response and projecting the sort of force that can help reduce this suffering.
Leaders may be uncomfortable using that kind of power these days. But that doesn’t make it any less true that, sometimes, painting a chapel can’t save the world as quickly as dropping a villain from a mile out.