December 1944. First Lieutenant Thomas Hart (Colin Farrell), a senator's son who has never seen combat, is captured, interrogated and sent to Stalag VI in Belgium. POW commanding officer McNamara (Bruce Willis) believes Hart may have revealed military secrets to the Germans and places him in Barracks 27 with enlisted soldiers. When two African-American pilots also assigned to Barracks 27 racial tension flares and ringleader Sgt Bedford (Cole Hauser) is murdered. Black officer Lt Scott (Terrence Howard) is charged and camp Commandant Col Visser (Marcel Ieures) permits a court-martial to take place. Hart is appointed as Scott's counsel while Mcnamara presides over proceedings. As Hart battles to save Scott from execution a daring escape plan is mounted.
Review by Richard Kuipers:
There's plenty of compelling evidence presented in the courtroom at Stalag VI, the strongest of which is that Irish actor Colin Farrell is destined for stardom. Brilliant in the little-seen Tigerland, Farrell's talents will reach a much wider audience with this old-style war movie given a boost by contemporary thematic concerns. Racism in the army is the centrepiece of a densely plotted outing that manages to squeeze in every traditional POW movie element and more into its 125 minutes. What's impressive here are the characterisations of both prisoners and their keepers. The Commandant, well played by Romanian actor Marcel Ieures, is not the monster we might expect. He's a Harvard graduate with a humanity that Hitler would not approve of. At another time he might have been friends with some of his prisoners. Scott, the African-American flyer on trial for his life is the most impressively drawn and isn't used as simply as a mouthpiece for liberal-mided soap box speeches. He simply tells it like it is for himself and indeed almost every black serviceman in this war and the message is stronger for being told with restraint. Revelations that German POWs were allowed to walk freely into cinemas and diners in the Deep South that 'free' blacks were barred from are potent reminders of the injustice faced by men prepared to die for a country that wasn't willing to recognise their lives as being equal of a white man's. Hart's War is an absorbing courtroom drama that gives Farrell the chance to show off his star quality although the ending disappoints. When the racial injustice card is dropped to accommodate a convoluted finale allowing Buce Willis to regain centre stage we're reminded again of how star power can make, or in this case, nearly break, a picture. Still, there are enough impressive elements beforehand to make the trip worthwhile.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Wrong casting for the market. If you want to appeal to Bruce Willis fans, you either put him in action mode or comedy. War time courtroom drama? No. The key image is Bruce on the poster, which suggests itís a war movie and the title suggests he plays a character called Hart. (Subliminal suggestion in the name, there?) It isnít. He doesnít. But thereís nothing wrong with the movie, in fact itís a technical triumph, combining the typically rich Rachel Portman score with the sombre setting of Stalag VI in late 1944/early 1945. The story is gripping and itís a refined script that extracts the issues of pre-black civil rights America and the role of black soldiers/airmen fighting for freedom, and the earthy issues of survival and escape in a POW camp. But, even though inspired by a true story, Hartís War misses a beat, playing its themes with a dour, earnest and overbearing style. Performances are solidly craftsmanlike, but the script never calls on that inner mystery / outer simplicity that creates memorable screen characters. Donít let me put you off, but donít ask me for a refund, either.
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FEATURE by Hal Hayes
HART'S WAR (M)
CAST: Bruce Willis, Colin Farrell, Terrence Howard, Cole Hauser, Marcel Iures, Linus Roache
PRODUCER: Gregory Hoblit, Arnold Rifkin
DIRECTOR: Gregory Hoblit
SCRIPT: Billy Ray and Terry George (novel by John Katzenbach)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Alar Kivilo
EDITOR: David Rosenbloom ACE
MUSIC: Rachel Portman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Lilly Kilvert
RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 30, 2002
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: October 16, 2002
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