HART’S WAR (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for some Strong War Violence and Language

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Directed by: Gregory Hoblit

Written by: Billy Ray & Terry George

(based on the novel HART’S WAR by John Katzenbach)

Starring: Bruce Willis, Colin Farrell, Terrence Howard, Cole Hauser, Marcel Iures, Linus Roache, Rory Cochrane & Sam Worthington

The poster for HART’S WAR would suggest that this is just another WWII movie laced with combat and heroism, but this film is actually a courtroom drama set within a POW camp. There’s nothing wrong with shaking up of the well-worn war movie formula in an unconventional way. For a while, HART’S WAR captured my attention. The film has positives in being well shot and ambitious, but also encounters a lot of shortcomings in wasting a solid A-list cast and jumbling up its narrative into a melodramatic bore.

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Thomas Hart (Colin Farrell) is a privileged intelligence officer who falls into a Nazi trap near the end of World War II. After breaking down under brutal interrogation tactics, Hart is shipped off to Stalag VI-A and is assigned to the enlisted soldier bunks by high-ranking Colonel William McNamara (Bruce Willis). After encountering tensions with his fellow prisoners, Hart finds himself sympathizing for two African-American pilots who are being openly persecuted by the other POWs. When a racist POW turns up dead and Lt. Lincoln Scott (Terrence Howard) is accused of murder, Hart is roped into an amateur trial within the camp. Defending Scott, Hart soon finds a darker side to McNamara and is faced with a difficult ultimatum.

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In regards to the wasted A-list cast, every performance in this film is of the exact same quality, which is to say that every actor is stone-faced, uninspired, and wooden. Colin Farrell plays Lt. Hart as a bland protagonist going place to place and interacting amongst talking heads of both sides. Despite Farrell’s efforts to make Hart into a sympathetic protagonist who’s stuck between a rock and a hard place, he just comes off as imitating every other big actor he’s seen in other (better) courtroom dramas and war movies (A FEW GOOD MEN kept coming to mind). Bruce Willis takes a step away from his usual smart-mouthed action movie persona to play Colonel McNamara as a man with two sides, both of which feel clichéd. His final scenes are satisfying, but everything leading up to them is simply dull.

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Terrence Howard delivers brief levity to his role of Lt. Scott. Howard seems to be the only actor to bring a couple of believable emotions to the screen in the space of 125 minutes. The usual (and realistic) speeches about how difficult it was to be black in America during WWII are employed and these are the easily the best scenes in this otherwise stagey production. Marcel Iures plays the Nazi camp commandant as an interesting character who sees his prisoners as somewhat human, but still isn’t above shooting them to prove a point. This mutual respect might have been explored further with a better script. Also in the side characters are Rory Cochrane, Cole Hauser and Sam Worthington as interchangeable faceless POWs.

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The most frustrating thing about HART’S WAR is how good it looks and how there were pieces for a solid story to be told. The way in which this plot plays out makes it thoroughly uninteresting and downright boring. I didn’t care about these characters and I certainly didn’t care how everything would turn out. The film contains a small handful of effective scenes (one of which near the beginning has the POW train under fire from their own side), but the film never maintains a solid momentum to keep things chugging along at a reasonable pace. Add into all of this an A-list cast delivering wooden performances and you’ve got yourself one hell of a stodgy war/courtroom drama. HART’S WAR should have been good. It should have conveyed a sense of honor trying to survive in hopelessness conditions and racial tensions being prevalent in a war that was being fought by many nationalities and races. Instead, HART’S WAR is entirely forgettable.

Grade: D+

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