Since September 11, there have been many war movies, and there are more to come. Behind Enemy Lines was a pathetic excuse for a war film, but Black Hawk Down was quite the opposite. We Were Soldiers and Windtalkers have yet to come, and that leaves Hart's War, a WWII prisoner-of-war camp movie that looks to scrape out an audience that is losing interest. The question is, Is it up to the task?
Hart's War starts off superbly, introducing us to Lt. Tommy Hart (Colin Farrell). He gets ambushed in a very graphic and well done scene, and then goes through a series of interrogations before arriving at the POW camp, where he meets Col. McNamara (Bruce Willis). Things are going okay until two black soldiers arrive, which cause quite a stir amongst the mainly racist group of men (except, of course, our men character, who is innocent of any bigotry). One of the soldiers gets accused of murder and Hart sets out to defend him, but there are other things going on behind the scene that jeopardize the man's right to an unbiased trial.
Farrell is no stranger to war movies. In fact, he made his leap into mainstream films just a couple years ago in Joel Schumacher's Tigerland, which was an extraordinary piece of work that, I must say, is much better than Hart's War. Farrell does an excellent job in the lead, giving depth and compassion to his character despite some misgivings. However, though no fault to Farrell, the character was written poorly at times; namely, the movie notes that he has a dark secret to tell regarding his interrogation, yet nothing really comes of it, and also, when he finds out what is really going on near the end of the movie (which really isn't a mystery since the previews give it away), he seems to be persuaded into helping fairly easily.
Willis, surprisingly, only has a supporting role, as Col. McNamara, the commanding officer of the prisoners. The character is written well, depicting him as stern and cold, yet hinting at a more compassionate and sensible side that really comes out in the end. Unlike Farrell's character, Willis' is better on paper, because I wasn't overly impressed with Willis' performance itself. Despite having character depth, he is still pretty bland, and the lines that he is given are pretty much straight-forward, cliché remarks. When his extremely dark secret is revealed, it was hard to watch.
Like so many other war movies of this type, Hart's War also has a "good" villain in the form of Marcel Iures as the Nazi leader of the camp. He has his dark side, but he is also an educated man and respects "the defiance" of the prisoners, especially the officers. There are many scenes between the "good guys" and this one "bad guy" where they act like friends yet you know one of them is going to end up dead by the end of the film. I liked Iures' performance but at the same time felt as though I had seen this character before, and I'm sure I have. It's been done many times before.
And that's where Hart's War really struggles. It has been done before. The formula is a good one and the movie is entertaining, but it has been done before. Though the plots are slightly different, I couldn't help but think of Hart's War as a rip-off of The Great Escape, which, of course, is a classic for good reason.
In the way of plot, Hart's War is segmented. The first half of the movie is very well done and fairly dramatic and exciting (though not necessarily action-packed as the previews suggest), but the second half is somewhat lackluster. Enter the two black soldiers to raise racism issues, as if we haven't heard these same racist speeches in hundreds of other movies. I really don't understand what race had to do with anything in the movie, and after listening to all of the obvious "good vs. evil" speeches the characters throw back and forth at each other about blacks in the military, I became tired. I went into Hart's War wanting a war story, not one about racism, and after the first half of the movie, I really wasn't expecting one. Furthermore, the movie slows down considerably as it navigates through a trial where it is obvious that the defendant is innocent. Of course, there is something else going on behind the trial; the American soldiers are planning on escaping so they can blow up a munitions plant. This is where the marketing campaign for Hart's War made a big mistake. They reveal that part of the plot in the previews, but it would have been much more effective had it been a surprise twist in the movie itself. The bias of the trial would have been hard to take, that is until the audience were to find out what the real reasons behind it were. Instead, we have to sit and listen to a cheesy trial knowing all along what is going to happen.
When all is said and done, Hart's War is a fairly entertaining and gripping war story. However, it has subplots that really are not needed, and those take away from more interesting plots. The final third of the film just felt as though there was something missing. I'd recommend Hart's War, but not before seeing The Great Escape, which is a thousand times better.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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