Main cast: Bruce Willis (Col William A McNamara), Colin Farrell (Lt Thomas W Hart), Terrence Dashon Howard (Lt Lincoln A Scott), Cole Hauser (Staff Sgt Vic W Bedford), and Marcel Iureş (Col Werner Visser)
Director: Gregory Hoblit
In trying too hard to make the world a better, happier place, Hart’s War ends up a gruesome mess just like one of those dead bodies that litter the battlefields in the movie. It may want to address racism in the war field and in the social strata of 1940s America, but it ends sticking its middle finger at intellectualism and pacifism. If Colin Farrell, looking like a poor man’s brunette Brad Pitt, looks increasingly lost in this mess, it’s not his fault: the movie just tries too hard.
Thomas Hart, an intrepid intelligence officer whose niche is more behind a desk rather than at the battlefield, is escorting his superior in a routine task when they end up in a German stalag instead. When a murder of a racist US POW leads to a black soldier being implicated, Thomas soon finds himself defending this soldier, Scott in a farcical court martial. This puts him against the inscrutable Col McNamara (Bruce Willis, impressively stoic until the movie decides to turn him into a gung-ho hero, then it all goes down the chute). Hart finds an unlikely ally in the German commander, Visser, who loves black jazz music.
Hart’s War could have been thought-provoking, and that is why it is a frustrating movie. It should have been deliciously gray, as we are addressing not just the cruelty of the Nazis, but the inherent racism within the good guys, the Americans. The set-up is a work of genius, an exercise of brilliant irony, especially in that scene where Visser slips Hart a book of law texts that can help Hart defend Scott. This hints that maybe not all Nazis are truly, cartoon-like evil.
But I don’t know what happened – fear of the politically correct post-Sept 11 zealot mobs, you know, those that clamp down on any whimpers of dissent or contradictory opinions? – but soon this movie plunges into a painfully melodramatic court case and culminates in a really ludicrous escape scene that causes many American lives to be wasted unnecessarily. Hart, an intellectual, is mocked and dealt with so many humiliating defeats, while McNamara, who drives his men to unnecessary death in the name of showy, self-congratulatory patriotism, is made a hero. I can’t help thinking that this movie’s message is that it is the display of reckless gung-ho thoughtlessness alone that defines courage. Impatient brute force, not intelligence, is what Uncle Sam wants in his brave sons. And for a movie that promises intelligent, thought-provoking issues, everything soon becomes a painful shade of black and white (American soldiers rule!).
Great cinematography though. And Colin Farrell is really pretty. Other than that, Hart’s War is just another wartime pap melodrama masquerading as something more substantial. In the end, it’s just not worth it.