Hart’s War

The terrible conflict that was World War II has forever been visualized in film and print in ways to numerous to mention. In recent years, Hollywood has returned to the World War II setting and given us some great productions such as “Band of Brothers”, and “Saving Private Ryan”. Alas, for every “Ryan” there are a number of misfires such as “Pearl Harbor” and “Captain Correlis Mandolin” that were large on spectacle and hype but short on character and plot.
Following the tragic events of September 11th, war related films such as “Behind Enemy Lines”, and “BlackHawk Down, have been embraced by audiences that sent the films box office to lofty heights. The new Bruce Willis vehicle “Hart’s War” is attempting to reach the same audience that drew “Enemy” and “Blackhawk” by relying on human drama rather than battlefield exploits to propel the story.
“Hart’s War” tells the story of LT. Tommy Hart (Colin Farrell), an officer at the rear headquarters in Europe who is safely behind the lines thanks to his Senator father. Hart was in his second year of law school at Yale when he entered the war, and is content at serving his country in HQ. While driving to a field office, Hart is taken prisoner and finds himself in a Stalag run by the brutal Major Wilhelm Visser (Marcel Iures), and the ranking prisoner Colonel William McNamara (Bruce Willis), who is a fourth generation West Point graduate. Hart is ordered to live apart from the officers in enlisted men’s barracks ostensibly due to a lack of space. Hart later learns that McNamara does not trust him as his debriefing only lasted three days by the Nazis and he never moved past an entry level interrogator. Undaunted, Hart goes about adjusting to life in the camp, and even gets the attention of the camps trade merchant Bedford, (Cole Hauser), who has a knack for finding items prisoners need for a price be it winter boots and socks or parts for an illegal radio. Life in the camp is soon disrupted by the arrival of two black airmen who have been shot down. Mcnamara instructs Hart to watch out for the men, and this causes him to run afoul of the men he lives with, as they are very opposed to living with black officers. When one of the black pilots is framed and executed, tensions run high in the camp. The discovery of a dead white prisoner further complicates matters when the remaining black pilot is forced to stand trial for the crime and Hart is assigned to protect him.
It is at this point that the movie becomes uneven as its pacing and focus become very uneven. It seems as if director Gregory Hoblit was unsure if he wanted a prisoner escape film, a racial drama in the vein of “A Soldiers Story”, or a courtroom drama such as “A Few Good Men”. The screenplay by Billy Ray and Terry George does service to the book by John Katzenbach, but fails to have the emotional impact that the book had. Willis is good in a subdued role, as the audience is never sure of McNamara’s intentions until the very end. Farell plays Hart as a wide-eyed soldier who is removed from his place of comfort and has to develop the traits of leadership, loyalty, and honor as he learns that life in the camp and on the lines is not the starched uniforms and lifestyle to which he had become accustomed. Marcel Iures is effective in his portrayal as he is a man of diversity. Capable of killing without hesitation one minute and listening to jazz while reading Mark Twain the next, he is a loyal soldier who is determined to do his duty to the end.
The film is a hard one to get a grasp on, as it was a well-crafted film with some great cinema photography. The pacing of the film is slow as the film builds to its climax in an methodical manner that is plausible despite some Hollywood style trickery such as characters dragging events out in order for future events to happen even though their delays have no valid reasons and would not likely happen in reality. That being said, the film did entertain at times, but it left me with an empty feeling, as I did not gain hope, inspiration, or satisfaction from the characters and their stories, only acceptance of their fates much like the huddled masses imprisoned in the stalag.

3 stars out of 5