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Hart's War

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Hart's War

Starring: Bruce Willis, Colin Farrell
Director: Gregory Hoblit
Rated: R
RunTime: 125 Minutes
Release Date: February 2002
Genres: Drama, War

*Also starring: Terrence DaShon Howard, Cole Hauser, Vicellous Reon Shannon, Rory Cochrane, Sam Worthington, Rick Ravanello, Marcel Iures

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Gregory Hoblit's film, "Hart's War," based on the experiences of novelist John Katzenbach's father during World War II, has been given added contemporary relevance by events surrounding the imprisonment of Taliban fighters currently incarcerated at the U.S. base at Guantanamo, Cuba. Secretary of State Colin Powell has urged President Bush to treat these men as prisoners of war, to be afforded all the protections granted to enemy soldiers by the Geneva Convention. Defense Secretary Rumsfield, on the other hand, together with Vice President Dick Cheney, has insisted that these militants are terrorists, not associated with a recognized foreign government and, in fact, not engaged in what could be defined as a war. If the latter interpretation holds, these captives need not be given in the relatively humane style afforded to legitimate POWs. In "Hart's War," while the Americans held in a German prisoner-of- war camp in 1944 are not guests of the Waldorf-Astoria (the hotel actually named twice in the script by Billy Ray and Terry George), and in fact are kept barely alive by their captors and treated less well than presumably are the current Taliban prisoners at Gitmo.

More important, however, than the relevance of the film is its quality. "Hart's War" is among the most intelligent and riveting treatments of a military trial since Stanley Roberts's 1954 adaptation of Herman Wouk's novel, "The Caine Mutiny." With its wallop-packed, multilayered plot, "Hart's War" embraces the themes of honor, racial justice, and male bonding without the stilted encumbrances of George Tillman Jr.'s "Men of Honor," a crowd-pleaser that unfortunately bore the conventions of a made-for-TV, flag-waving melodrama. Not only does "Hart's War" convey the ambience of a POW camp (filmed in the Czech town an hour's drive from Prague utilizing Lilly Kilvert's allegedly authentic set design of an actual stalag), but the story also bears sharp dialogue and a restrained by effective array of pyrotechnics (particularly by a P-51 plane which soared low over German-held territory, destroying railroad tracks and German- controlled buildings as well). Best of all is a performance by the handsome, 24-year-old Colin Farrell ("Tigerland") as a guilt- ridden lieutenant appointed by a superior officer to defend a black American soldier accused of murdering a white racist who had regularly taunted him.

Full of ironies and twists, "Hart's War" opens on the capture of Lieutenant Tomm Hart (Colin Farrell) by two German soldiers dressed as American MP's. Placed in an overcrowded POW camp with enlisted men (a break from the truth, in which captured officers were housed in barracks only with fellow officers), Hart falls under the command not only of the German Wilhelm Visser (Marcel Iures) but of fellow American, Col. William McNamara (Bruce Willis). Despite the absolute rule over the camp by Visser--fluent in English and, in fact, educated during the 1920's at Yale University--the Germans allow the American, McNamara, to keep order among his own men. When a black lieutenant (Terrence Howard), housed with white American soldiers including a racist captain whom he is later accused of murdering, McNamara sees an opportunity to divert German attention by creating a court martial with himself as presiding officer. While the German colonel surprisingly agrees to allow the legal proceedings, he is not aware of McNamara's hidden agenda.

Among the unusual verities of this prison camp illustrated by the film is the existence of theatrical skits put on by the prisoners, particularly one who pokes fun at Hitler--productions that even included appreciative enemy soldiers in the audience! "Hart's War," an astute blending of battle sequences, fiery courtroom histrionics (particularly the sharp defense of the prisoner in the dock by Colin Farrells' character), and a reminder of the segregation and attitudes of soldiers during the 1940s that recalls Norman Jewison's movie 1984 movie "A Soldier's Story," is a sincere tale of heroics which for all its rah-rah morality does not fall into the trap of wearing its patriotism baldly on its sleeve.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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