Hart's War Movie Review

I must admit I had preconceived notions regarding Hart's War. I was expecting to see a blood-and-guts WWII P.O.W. flick with Bruce Willis kicking Nazi butt, just like Audie Murphy. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by this strange mixture of The Verdict and The Great Escape that delivers on all fronts, with a cunning script, great acting, and subtle directing.

The story resembles one of those studio pictures of the 1940s and 1950s made famous by the likes of William Holden and Gary Cooper. Willis plays Col. William McNamara, the highest-ranking officer in German prisoner camp Stalag IV during the tail end of the WWII. McNamara retains the dignity of his fellow American soldiers held captive and silently plans to strike back against the enemy under the suspicious eyes of German Col. Werner Visser (Marcel Iures). When a murder occurs in the camp, McNamara sets in motion a plan of attack against his German counterparts by orchestrating a court martial headed by Lt. Tommy Hart (Colin Farrell), an Army desk jockey with a senator for a father who was recently captured in Belgium. As the tensions mount and sides are taken, both friend and foe uncover duplicities within their own ranks, values of lives are weighed against the duties of soldiers, and the question of honor versus freedom plays out to the final whopper of an ending.

Gregory Hoblit, director of last year's sleeper hit Frequency, delivers once again another knockout of a film. Captured in stunning cinematography filtered with blues and grays, Hoblit paints a bleak existence of P.O.W.'s during WWII. He deflates the common image of the innocent, naïve American soldier fighting the big bad Nazis by injecting emotional shades of gray within his "heroes." Some are racists, profiteers, or simply ignorant or selfish. He also confronts the issue of black P.O.W.'s and their treatment during WWII, both by the Nazis and their fellow U.S. soldiers.

MGM's crude marketing blitzkrieg of Hart's War may be the film's most damaging factor, as most people, like me, assume this is a big (read: stupid) action movie. Quite the contrary. The film's messages about racism, sacrifice, redemption, and honor are delivered not with a heavy hand, but through subtle dialogue and complex character development -- particularly between Willis's McNamara and Iures's Visser. The film reverberates as a classic next to films like Stalag 17 and The Great Escape, but further delves into the issue of how far man will go to secure both personal and financial freedom.

The acting, crucial for the film to be any good, is a standout. Bruce Willis delivers a hard-nosed, honorable soldier reminiscent of his role as General Devereaux from The Siege. Colin Farrell shakes off the dismal memories of American Outlaws and shows us that he isn't a one-trick pony since his breakout performance in Tigerland. The supporting cast also clicks, with strong performances from Iures, Cole Hauser as the racist and entrepreneurial prisoner Bedford, and Terrence Howard's portrayal of Lincoln Scott, the accused murderer on trial.

And it's flaming.


Comments

Hart's War Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: R, 2002

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