U.S. Release Date:
February 15, 2002
Director: Gregory Hoblit
Writer: Billy Ray
Composer: Rachel Portman
Cast: Bruce Willis, Colin Farrell, Terrence Howard, Sam Worthington
Running Time: 2 hours and 5 minutes
MPAA Rating: R (some strong war violence and language)
Hart's War takes place during World War II and tells the story of Lt. Tommy Hart (Colin Farrell), who is captured by the Nazis in the opening sequence of the film. Hart is interrogated until he gives up important military secrets to the Nazis, and then is shipped to a POW camp with his peers.
Upon arrival at the camp, Hart is introduced to Col. William McNamara (Bruce Willis), who is the camp's highest ranking American officer imprisoned there, as well as German Col. Werner Visser (Marcel Iures) who is in charge of the camp.
The operation of the camp is hardly believable. We see the American POWs outside playing football, listening to music, putting on plays and watching movies. They even have the luxury of an upright piano. Willis walks around the camp as if he were in his own back yard, seemingly able to speak to any other soldiers in the camp whenever he wants, and even has easy access Col. Visser. One wonders if this is a movie that's taking place in a Nazi Germany camp or a summer camp one might send one's children to.
Most of the conflict in the film is not between the U.S. prisoners and the Nazis, but between the U.S. soldiers themselves, focusing on race relations within the U.S. army. After Hart is assigned to his barracks, two black pilots are brought to the camp and assigned to his barracks too. Hart tries to play mediator when the other soldiers utter racial slurs toward the black prisoners. The majority of the white soldiers think that the black soldiers are inferior, and are offended that the black pilots outrank them. Later, when a dogfight breaks out over the camp between a U.S. fighter plane and a Nazi fighter plane, all the American soldiers cheer for the U.S. fighter. The black pilot points out to them that they're cheering for a black pilot, since the U.S. plane has the markings of the Tuskegee Airmen (a fighter squadron in WWII made up of black pilots).
Eventually, one of the U.S. soldiers is murdered as a result of the racial tensions and the blame is pinned on one of the black pilots. Just when the Nazi's are about to execute the soldier, Bruce Willis steps in and objects to Col. Visser. Since one U.S. soldier murdered another, Willis argues, he is entitled to a right to a fair trial by his peers. Col. Visser is amused by Willis and decides to fancy his request. Thus, the film transitions into a play-trial, which takes place in the theater with the upright piano.
Willis assigns Hart to defend the accused and appoints himself as judge. When Hart believes Willis is purposefully slanting the trail against his client, he accepts the help of Col. Visser, who gives him a book on court-marshal proceedings.
Of course, if you've seen the previews for the film you'll know that the play-trial is meant to be a distraction to the Nazis running the camp, while the rest of the prisoners carry out a secret mission. Apparently the trial was so interesting that the Nazis allowed for half of the American soldiers to go unaccounted for during the course of the trial so the secret mission could be carried out.
In addition to being unbelievable, Hart's War is irresponsible and offensive. More Americans are killed by friendly fire than by Nazis! Director Gregory Hoblit (Frequency) said in the press notes that he wanted to make the film because "it addresses political and social issues that are as pertinent today as they were [during World War II]." But attempting to make a statement about race relations in America is hardly appropriate in the context of a totalitarian regime like Nazi Germany. The film's tagline of "Beyond Courage, Beyond Honor" is ironically appropriate. My only addition is: "Beyond Belief."
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