Retro Review: Hart’s War

We return to the POW stalags of World War 2, where Allied prisoners were broken by the Nazis and forced to witness the war from a prison. Hollywood has ventured back to this part of the war many times. Why would they want us to journey back again?

Fresh upstart and fast rising star Colin Farrell stars as Lt. Thomas Hart, a newly arrived prisoner to the POW camp dubbed Stalag 6A.

Hart has just gone through a rigorous journey that has brought him to the Stalag but the journey may have been easy compared to politics evolving at the camp.

The camp is ruled by Col. William McNamara (Bruce Willis), who is a 4th generation American warrior who refuses to give up fighting a war which has forgotten him. McNamara sends Hart to bunk with the unlisted men so that an officer can watch the men and report back to him. Hart is reluctant but follows orders.

The very next day, before Hart can properly get settled with his bunkmates, the Colonel requests that two black airmen bunk in Hart’s building. This causes racial tensions and the men begin to lash out at each other. Two murders follow and the world within Stalag 6A begins to explode. It is up to Hart to uncover the basis behind the murders.

“Hart’s War” begins as a “classic” stalag war film with a dashing young lead that is thrown against the horrors of the Nazis.

The film has a very impressive beginning as we follow Hart’s journey to Stalag 6A. Director Gregory Hoblit (Frequency, Primal Fear) shows Hart’s internal destruction and desperation. The director also uses flashbacks to cleverly uncover what was missed during Hart’s journey.

The film continues along and it is very interesting until it comes to one crucial scene in the “stalag’s morgue”. At the moment when the Nazi commander played by Marcel Iures reveals that he is a Yale graduate. I lost it. The credibility of the film, the setting and where the film was going made me cringe.

Especially when the Nazi goes on to tell Hart that they are collegiate brothers and he will help him solve the case. A Nazi who enjoys the American legal system? Give me a break. Who thinks up this stuff?

The film focuses on the trial, the mystery and the camp’s politics. First of all, I have seen a more clever murder mysteries and trials on TV’s “Law & Order”. Second, all of this is set in a German POW camp. We journeyed all the way back to World War 2 for a dull murder and trial? Third, by making the Nazis likeable there really is no threat.

The film tries to make the Nazi Commander and Col. McNamara equals and we aren’t sure who Hart should trust. This never came to fruition for me. I had a hard time accepting the elements the film was trying to put together in its final act. This being one of them.

I enjoyed watching Colin Farrell. He is quickly becoming a great leading man. Bruce Willis is continuing his evolution into the “Clint Eastwood-Harrison Ford” form. He says very little and relies a lot on grunts and looks. I really miss the passionate performance Willis did in “Mortal Thoughts”.

This film’s POW camp wasn’t very realistic for my tastes. See the film “Gulag” starring David Keith and know what it is really like to be in a “concentration camp”. That film doesn’t have Nazis but it does have Cold War Soviets. That is a excellent film.

I would have liked to have seen Hart’s War turn into a “Great Escape” kind of film and have menacing Nazis again. Giving the Nazis feelings and passions is like what Anne Rice did when she neutered vampires.

I don’t mean any disrespect but we really needed menacing Nazis in this film so that the film could maintain its tension; even if you do believe the hokey idea of an American court-martial trial within a concentration camp.

3 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer.

Written: February 27, 2002

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