**½/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B-
starring Bruce Willis, Colin Farrell, Terrence Dashon Howard, Vicellous Reon Shannon
screenplay by Billy Ray and Terry George, based on the novel by John Katzenbach
directed by Gregory Hoblit
by Walter Chaw Director Gregory Hoblit's fourth consecutive celluloid guilty pleasure, Hart's War constantly dances the razor's edge of offensively pat (equating Nazi Germany with Macon, GA circa 1944) while providing enough canned tension and studied theatricality to put A Few Good Men to shame. With Bruce Willis as a smirky secondary character and largely-untested Irishman Colin Farrell asked to shoulder the brunt of the courtroom hijinks, Hart's War is an exceptionally well-done bad movie that hums along on its earnestness. Though if you think of the film at all after the lights come up, best not to contemplate the plot, which is littered with holes like P-51 rocket craters.
Lieutenant Tommy Hart (Farrell), an Army desk jockey in late 1944, is itching for a fight and of course gets one when he volunteers to drive someone to the front. Interrogated and shipped to a composite stalag somewhere in the middle of a frozen wasteland (the film was shot at Milovice in the Czech Republic), Hart encounters stern authoritarian Colonel McNamara (Willis) leading the American POWs and stern authoritarian Obesrt Visser (Marcel Iures) running the camp.
After two Tuskegee Airmen are brought to the camp, racial tensions between the Yankee prisoners erupt, leading to a murder and an extended court martial that casts doubt on the American prisoners' moral superiority in questions of race and justice. Cole Hauser turns in an excellent performance as the requisite camp "getter" and catalyst for the courtroom drama that comprises the bulk of the film.
Hart's War spends its second act as a fairly conventional prison camp/courtroom intrigue complete with surprise witnesses, stunning reveals of new evidence, and heated soliloquies protesting innocence and corruption. Although a final twist satisfies, I was distracted by a glaring lapse in logic which sees Col. McNamara dismissed from the court martial but continuing to participate through the rest of the film.
It's a pretty big flaw in that it shows the film as largely disinterested in its own formula, choosing instead to fly a liberal flag so high that an African-American man not allowed to eat in the same diner as German POWs in Georgia is used as an example of humanity's collective inhumanity to man. An interesting conceit as far as it goes, but a haunting early scene (the opening twenty minutes are expert), where a trainload of female Jewish "slaves" are shipped off to a "munitions factory," gives lie to the comparison of rednecks and the Third Reich. Rednecks just aren't that organized.
Hart's War is a glossy Hollywood production with a couple of superb (if brief) action sequences and Hoblit's trademark affectedness. It largely avoids schmaltz until the third act (when it wallows in it), and if its conclusion borders on the implausible, sliding into the ridiculous, Hart's War provides easy causes to champion, nice turns by Farrell and Hauser, and enough cleverly framed set-pieces to ease the pain of its predictability and hamfistedness. Originally published: February 15, 2002.
by Bill Chambers MGM's DVD release of Hart's War presents the film in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and open-matte options on opposite sides of the platter. The film's cool blue palette tends to mute shadow detail, but both transfers are well-compressed. Although Hart's War is a talky picture, there are moments of explosive action in the accompanying DD 5.1 audio that assault the eardrum and tickle the spine--been a while since my subwoofer belched bass this deep.
Extra features on this non-SE include: a comprehensive commentary by director Hoblit and co-screenwriter Billy Ray, with the occasional comment from Bruce Willis sandwiched in; another yak-track from producer David Foster, who concentrates on the film's background in WWII history; ten deleted scenes (in 16x9) that reveal that an even more structurally and politically complex film lies on the cutting room floor, with elective commentary from Ray and Hoblit--they're especially sorry to see go, as am I, a bit in which the American soldiers entertain their German captors by donning blackface; a 4-part photo gallery--see Bruce make serious expressions for "The Poster Shoot"; and trailers for Hart's War, Windtalkers, and the TV shows "Jeremiah" and "Stargate SG-1". Originally published: July 8, 2002.