Willis's Hart Beat
Reading the blurb on the DVD cover for "Hart's War" and it sounds like a modern PoW movie, an attempt to make something similar to "The Great Escape" for a new generation with Bruce Willis taking a commanding role. And indeed there is an element of a PoW escape movie about "Hart's War" but it is more than just that as it brings in a bit of courtroom drama, yes that's right courtroom drama in a movie set a PoW camp during WWII. It feels a little like it is drawing on "A Few Good Men" as it delivers a story about an African American pilot accused of murdering a fellow prisoner in a Nazi PoW camp and a young Lieutenant discovering plenty of hidden secrets as he is put in charge of defending the pilot. All of which makes "Hart's War" quite a clever movie, one with a few twists which makes for some surprisingly good entertainment although having said that it is also a little over the top, entertaining through an imaginative idea even if that idea pushes the boundaries of realism.
As a son of a senator Lieutenant Tommy Hart (Colin Farrell - Miami Vice) has been kept away from fighting on the frontline, but during a routine job driving an officer around Hart ends up being caught by the Nazi's. Following a harsh interrogation he is shipped off to a PoW camp where he meets Colonel William McNamara (Bruce Willis - The Kid) the ranking U.S. soldier who is charge of the prisoners. Wary of Hart and suspicious that he may have buckled under interrogation McNamara assigns him to the barracks of the enlisted men and he is soon accompanied by two more officers, African American pilots Scott (Terrence Howard) and Archer (Vicellous Reon Shannon). With racism amongst the men it makes for problems especially when Archer is set up by an American Officer called Bedford (Cole Hauser) and then Scott is found standing over Bedford's dead body. With so much trouble Col. McNamara demands that the Nazi Officers allow them to hold a formal court martial hearing and assigns Hart to be Scott's defence lawyer. But is it all as obvious as it seems?
To be honest "Hart's War" takes a long time to get to the meat of the actual story, taking it's time to introduce us to the character of Lt. Thomas W. Hart as he gets captured by the Nazi's and interrogated. It feels like the writers had some clever ideas for some scenes, there is one where he is thrown from a jeep and lands in a ditch where all the dead bodies are thrown, there is another where a train carrying prisoners comes under attack from bombers and so some men get killed by their own air force. They are very clever scenes as are the interrogation scenes but they go on a lot longer than needed and feel like they have been included not because they really added to the story but because they were very good.
Things don't really speed up when Hart is taken to the PoW camp and so all the pivotal characters are basically introduced. It's a case that you know things will end up being about a daring escape but it never seems to be in a hurry to get there; instead trying to show what life was like inside the camp. That means we have the prisoner's putting on some form of show, the scrounger who is able to obtain pretty much anything and of course Col. William A. McNamara the Officer whose rank makes him the superior. In a way it's a little bit cliche, especially as Lt. Hart is a bit suspicious of what is going on as he is kept out of the loop.
Now if that was all there was to "Hart's War" it would have ended up being disappointing but it then brings in the courtroom part of the story with the character of Lt. Lincoln A. Scott being accused of murdering another PoW. But before that it also introduces an element of racism as the prisoners are not happy to be sharing their digs with African Americans. It's actually a very clever element to the story because I cannot remember watching another PoW movie which introduced an element of racism and it is pivotal to him being accused of murder.
This racism and murder leads to the court room element of the movie as Lt. Hart, who prior to the war was at Yale studying law, being put in charge of defending Lt. Scott. What follows has that element of "A Few Good Men" about it as Hart begins to realise that all is definitely not what it seems as Scott is being set up to provide cover for something else.
All of which is good if it does take a little time to really get to the main part of the movie, but it has one significant flaw. That flaw is whilst being imaginative it does push things to the edge of believability. There are various scenes such as how Col. Werner Visser, the German Officer in charge of the Stalag, is so friendly to various Americans and elements of the court room drama just end up being too fanciful as Lt. Hart tries to put pressure on those he thinks are behind the murder. It's just a case of going a little too far in trying to entertain and that bit too far, that bit of unbelievable drama ends up cheapening what is a clever movie.
Coming relatively early in his career Colin Farrell as Lt. Hart is the star of the movie, Bruce Willis may give a solid performance as Col. McNamara whilst his name and face are used to market the movie, but it is Farrell who dominates it. And to be honest it's a good performance from Farrell because he makes Hart a man of different levels. On one level you have this college kid who before being captured hadn't seen any action, he's quite weak and looks like he can be broken under interrogation. He's also wet behind the ears when it comes to prison life but then you have the element of him discovering the truth and his personal battle over doing the right thing, doing the honourable thing. It means that whilst Willis is wonderfully restrained as Col. McNamara and the likes of Terrence Howard, Cole Hauser, Linus Roache and Rory Cochrane are solid as other soldiers it is Farrell who brings the movie to life.
What this all boils down to is that "Hart's War" is an interesting movie, a clever movie which manages to combine a PoW escape movie with that of a courtroom drama. It is imaginative and certainly differs from what you may expect as it also introduces racism amongst soldiers but it is sadly flawed. Between seeming to take an age to get going and then pushing the boundaries of believability it spoils what could have been a smart and different war movie.