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Overall Rating

Awesome: 6.98%
Worth A Look: 16.28%
Pretty Bad: 25.58%
Total Crap: 23.26%

3 reviews, 25 user ratings

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Hart's War
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by Stephen Groenewegen

"Crimes and punishment"
1 stars

Hart’s War unwittingly demonstrates how the hubris of a star can destroy a picture.

It is 1944 and Lieutenant Tommy Hart (Colin Farrell) is a prisoner of war (POW) at a Nazi camp. As a second year law student, he’s assigned by the highest-ranking American officer, Colonel McNamara (Bruce Willis) to defend Lieutenant Scott (Terrence Howard) on a murder charge. The odds are stacked against Hart – he’s an inexperienced junior, the other soldiers revile the defendant for being the only black officer in the camp, and the court martial turns out to be a cover-up concocted by McNamara for mysterious reasons of his own.

John Katzenbach’s thriller is no Pulitzer Prize winner, but it’s a gripping read with a tense climax. Terry George (In the Name of the Father) and an uncredited Jeb Stuart (The Fugitive) drafted the screenplay adaptation, before heavy rewrites by Billy Ray (Volcano). I suspect a whole team of hacks was then set loose to expand Bruce Willis’ role once Willis’ producing partner, Arnold Rifkin, came onboard as co-producer.

McNamara was a supporting character in the book, which was essentially about Hart’s journey. Now he’s the lead character, with as many scenes as the eponymous lieutenant. In the ludicrous finale to the script, McNamara is revealed first as the villain and then the hero, as if to prove the writers had no idea what they were doing.

To hammer home McNamara’s integrity, a prologue is added contrasting Hart as a spoilt Senator’s son who’s never seen action. It’s up to McNamara to show him what honour is, by God! Unlike the book, Hart receives no legal assistance from other lawyers in the camp, so he flounders in court like an idiot. Katzenbach’s legal scenes were absorbing; here, the arguments make no sense and the trial peters out without coming to any logical conclusion.

It’s no wonder that Farrell fails to deliver on the promise of his performance in Tigerland. He should have made a great Hart, but the character arc of the book has been gutted. There’s a glimpse of what the film could have been in his interaction with German commandant Visser (Marcel Iures), with Willis’ lumbering McNamara out of the way. Katzenbach’s themes – about unlikely partnerships, male rivalry, racism and the chain of command – reveal themselves momentarily. The rest of the cast, including Australian Sam Worthington (Bootmen) in his Hollywood debut, are as drab as their surroundings. Willis torpedoes the film with his monotonous playing and dull speechifying.

Director Gregory Hoblit (Frequency) plods through the film, and tries to have it both ways. The dumb script suggests a war action movie, so he adds such staples of the genre as gratuitous explosions and executions. But he’s also attempting a serious film on the sensitive subject of POWs, so he studiously replicates the camp with reverent attention to period detail. But for all the authenticity, this is the kind of prison where inmates wander at night with impunity, and there are concealed hiding places around every corner.

I’d call this colour-by-numbers filmmaking if production designer Lilly Kilvert and cinematographer Alar Kivilo hadn’t swamped the film in a depressing and unrelenting grey. Hart’s War is arch and humourless, because the situations are too clichéd and characters too one-dimensional to elicit any natural humour. There’s also clumsy editing from David Rosenbloom during a scene in which McNamara reassembles a gun in Visser’s office. And the point of an earlier episode, when a racist prisoner almost tricks Scott into stepping outside the yard and getting shot, is lost. Instead, it becomes a celebration of McNamara’s heroics in throwing bread to starving Russians.

If Hoblit’s intention was to simulate the experience of a POW camp by making a dreary and punishing movie, he succeeded.

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originally posted: 05/29/02 13:04:58
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User Comments

1/11/19 Anne good to see 3 stars
5/01/11 gc I honestly think Hogans Heros is more realistic than this nonsense 2 stars
8/19/08 Shaun Wallner The storyline is well made! 3 stars
12/06/07 Pamela White will it ever end the most boring movie with no point 1 stars
5/07/06 chienne Total bollocks, only worth watching 4 t'xcellent Marcel Iures - my new hero. 4 stars
7/13/05 Russell Updike To much plot jumping. They didn't even stick to what most people thought it would be about. 1 stars
2/04/05 Dan GREAT! 5 stars
10/19/04 R.W. Welch Over concocted and keyed too low. Has a few good scenes. 3 stars
9/29/04 Dan Phil, Your Wife is a Jackass. This movie is fictional, but it still is entertaining. Good. 4 stars
6/21/04 DAVID ANDERSON Every bit as believable as HOGAN'S HEROES; recommend reading THE GREAT ESCAPE instead 2 stars
2/28/04 Priscilla Postlethwaite Compelling once it finally gets focused. Based on a true story? 4 stars
9/14/03 J It was OK, except for the beginning. 3 stars
5/03/03 Dr. Zinn Well made, yet a very strange film. 3 stars
4/12/03 Lin Rainey I liked it -- never heard of Farrell before -- do now. 4 stars
12/21/02 Achrya A bit of everything makes plenty of nothing 2 stars
11/29/02 mr. Pink very, very, very, very, very dull. Willis and Farrell are sleepwalking throughout this shit 1 stars
9/27/02 Phil M. Aficionado My wife, a WWII guru and junkie, actually told me to turn it off in the middle. Unheard of 2 stars
7/06/02 MichelleT. Excellent movie with Extraordinary actors 5 stars
7/04/02 Valerie Cameron (don't understand either CANNERY WHORE or CANARY WHORE Don't you mean "Nazi CAPTORS," Erik? 4 stars
6/08/02 Crunchyfrog Don't you mean "cannery whore," Erik? 1 stars
4/05/02 Priscilla Postlethwaite Compelling once it finally gets focused. Based on a true story? 4 stars
2/21/02 Timeo The acting and cinematography was great, the only problem being that the plot sucked. 4 stars
2/20/02 will monahan I urge those who saw the movie to read the book. Much better. More intriquing 3 stars
2/19/02 joe very good 5 stars
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  15-Feb-2002 (R)



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