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:: Hart's War

Harts War is the latest film by acclaimed television director Gregory Hoblit. Hoblit is responsible for programs such as “Hill Street Blues”, “LA Law” and “NYPD Blue” and feature films “Frequency” (Dennis Quaid), “Fallen” (Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Donald Sutherland & James Gondolfini) and “Primal Fear” (Richard Gere, Laura Linney). The film is set in World War Two in a Nazi prisoner of war camp, Stalag Luft 3. The screenplay is based on a novel by John Katzenbach. He wrote the book about his father’s two-year captivity at the camp.

The protagonist Tommy Hart (Colin Farrell) is a young Lieutenant still trying to prove himself amongst his men. After being captured and tortured at the hands of a skilled German interrogator, Hart is released into the POW camp that is presided over by German Colonel Werner Visser (Marcel Iures). A secondary system of command is also present amongst the inmates themselves; in charge is the highest-ranking American officer, Colonel William McNamara (Bruce Willis).

Hart starts off on the wrong foot with McNamara and instead of being allowed to sleep in the Officers quarters where he belongs, he is relegated to bunk in with the enlisted men. He is just starting to assert some authority over his group when McNamara assigns two black airforce officers to sleep in their dorms, under Harts command. Most of the men are less than pleased to be sharing their dorms with a pair of “blacks” and tensions begin to mount which Hart appears incapable of dissipating.

After the most intolerant soldier in the dorm sets up one of the black officers to be caught by the Germans for stealing a weapon he did not steal, the officer is shot as a lesson to the other soldiers in the camp. Soon after this the soldier is found murdered. To prevent the Germans from acting rashly once again, McNamara stalls Visser by insisting on a proper “American” Court Marshall hearing. Hart, a Yale law student before the war began (naturally) is appointed to represent the black officer Lieutenant Lincoln Scott (Terence Howard) accused of the murder. The hearing and the discoveries made by Hart along the way as to the inner workings of the camp and the play of power ever present between the opposing Colonels, takes up the rest of the film.

The director is again able to work with his obvious interest in the drama of the courtroom and the unravelling of the scenes of crime. Given his experience in creating this drama for a television audience, it is surprising that he hasn’t been able to recreate it on the big screen. Whether it is the difference in the shooting timeframes or methods, the larger cast and nature of the production generally, the film comes across as pieces of a puzzle that don’t quite fit together.

More depth in Hart’s character is applied by opening the film with Hart being unable to withstand the mental and physical pressure applied to him by his German interrogator, consequently betraying his country by imparting vital information about the Allies’ positions. Although this clearly plagues Hart at the start of the film, it is seemingly forgotten once the Court Marshall begins and is then never mentioned again. Consequently it appears entirely hypocritical when the climax of the film sees Hart confronting McNamara about his methods and his priorities, when Hart himself is by no means a model soldier.

Hoblit has also failed to create any drama in the court room scenes at all, especially compared to what is available to the viewing public on television today with the plethora of law related programs. Bruce Willis plays the same role that we have seen him in countless times and despite what the producers may have thought, this does not get any more interesting with time. Leading on from this, the film also suffers from the recurring downfall of many Hollywood recreations of any war they may have been involved in at some point in time, the utter Americanisation of the experience. The only interesting point raised in the film is the way black Americans were treated by other American soldiers, who when they should have been focussed on fighting alongside one another instead created artificial divisions. It is also worth noting that the film has no female characters in it at all, which is unusual given it includes a 43 member speaking cast.

Aside from the spark created throughout the film by Colin Farrell, who is surely set to be Hollywood’s next big thing, this film is one to watch on video only if there is really nothing else available.

Screening on general release