Early on in “Hart”s War,” as Lieutenant Tommy Hart (Colin Farrell, “Tigerland”) is taken to a German POW camp, a fellow soldier tells him to smile, “For you the war is over.” Little does Tommy know that his war has just begun.
The year is 1944, and the territory is Belgium. Lt. Hart is the son of an American senator who is making sure his son never sees the front and spends a lot of time at a desk. Back home, Hart was a second year law student at Yale. After capture, Hart is an officer not given much respect due to enduring only three days of interrogation by the Nazis.
Stalag 6 is Hart”s camp, and trying to maintain some sense of military honor in these horrible conditions is Colonel William McNamara (Bruce Willis). McNamara leads the rest of the imprisoned soldiers as they salute, throw bread to the hungry, put on plays and salute again. Whatever power they think they have is granted to them by camp dictator and American admirer Colonel Werner Visser (Romanian actor Marcel Lures).
Now that the setting has been established, the real plot of the film comes into play. A couple of black Air Corps pilots come to the camp and are housed in Hart”s bunk. The racism of Hart”s bunkmates, especially that of Vic Bedford (Cole Hauser, “Good Will Hunting”), leads to the main plot, which gets one of the black POWs killed. Then Bedford is found dead with the other black POW, Lieutenant Lincoln Scott (Terrence Howard), standing over him. The lawyer in Hart comes out immediately, demanding a court martial before they execute Scott. Visser thinks it will be fun, and agrees.
It all seems quite ludicrous another story Hollywood has elaborately fashioned to tug at our heartstrings. We thought we had seen the Hollywood court drama done in every way possible, and then someone suggests a German POW camp during World War II. These must be the thoughts of someone entering “Hart”s War,” but miraculously, even as the clichs come flying in from all angles, it remains suspenseful. It appears as if director Gregory Hoblit, the man responsible for the excellent “Frequency,” has done the impossible.
However, in the end, the overly melodramatic, sappy delivery that was expected throughout the film and wonderfully absent rushes in like a tsunami on high tide. “Hart”s War” was filmed long before Sept. 11, but it is hard to tell, as each soldier fights to be the sacrificial hero for the good of the country and the men who fight for it. It isn”t inspiring it”s annoying, and you can”t wait for the Germans to take one of them down so we can go home and try to remember the finer points of Hoblit”s film.
Alar Kivilo”s cinematography is outstanding, which isn”t surprising because he is also the man responsible for shooting “A Simple Plan,” which is another film that takes full advantage of its snowy surroundings. The set design is equally impressive, as it supplies realism to the POW camp while also giving reason for the prisoner”s depressed state of mind.
Farrell and Howard are each given the challenge of playing characters we have seen on screen numerous times before. Yet, each pulls it off and they are most likely the reason “Hart”s War” keeps our interest for so long. Howard gives a trial speech that bleeds of “Men of Honor”-like melodrama, but instead, Howard commands the screen and turns it into the finest scene of the film.
Despite Willis” presence, the young Farrell has the film placed squarely on his shoulders. This is Hart”s journey, and he becomes an intelligent, conflicted and passionate man in this performance. Farrell is being bred to be the next Tom Cruise or Matt Damon, and he proves that he can handle the spotlight. Willis gives a good supporting performance as the Colonel who will not let his war end merely because he is so far from the front.
With all its beauty and the excellent cast, this war still does not come out a winner in the end.