Review by Dustin Putman
1 star out of 4
Set at the end of World War II in Germany, "Hart's War" misleadingly
sets the proceedings up to be a typical, battle-ridden war film when,
in fact, it really wants to be a hokey courtroom drama. The mesmerizingly
directed, shockingly violent opening fifteen minutes are easily its
best, helped immeasurably by the gorgeous cinematography by Alar Kivilo
(2001's "The Glass House"). Kivilo proves to be a master of beautiful,
snow-drenched landscapes, and one shot of a character being thrown
from an automobile, only to find himself lying in a sea of frozen
bodies, is cogent and unforgettable. Since the meticulous visuals
are about the only compliment worth paying to "Hart's War," it's best
to get it out of the way from the start. Once the setting switches
to a POW camp outside of Belgium, the movie grinds to a startling
halt from which it never picks up or evokes any more signs of interest.
Set at the end of 1944, privileged Lieutenant Tommy Hart (Colin Farrell),
the son of a senator, is traveling through the wintry forest on a
routine chauffeur mission when they are ambushed by the Germans. Tommy
is subsequently tortured and then sent to Stalag VIA, where he joins
his fellow American prisoners of war, led by Colonel William McNamara (Bruce Willis).
When two black officers, Lt. Lincoln Scott (Terrence Dashon Howard)
and Lamar Archer (Vicellous Reon Shannon), arrive and are assigned
the same barrack, the overt racism of the enlisted men begins to boil
almost immediately. Following the senseless murder of Lamar, and the
later death of a white soldier that leaves Lincoln holding the weapon,
he is immediately sent to be put on trial. Because of his race, Lincoln
is nearly guaranteed death, but Tommy is positive that he was set
up. Yearning to finally do something truly honorable, aspiring lawyer
Tommy agrees to defend him in court.
Directed by Gregory Hoblit (2000's "Frequency"), the possibility of
turning the premise of "Hart's War" into one of worthy intrigue was
not out of reach. All of the elements are on hand for an involving
war-set thriller, but Hoblit and on-auto-pilot screenwriters Billy
Ray (1997's "Volcano") and Terry George (1997's "The Boxer") render
every minute with an embarrassing lifelessness and a lack of human
emotions. Every character, including Farrell's Tommy Hart and Willis'
William McNamara, are such impassive, empty-headed creations that
when the climax calls for the viewer to be deeply touched when one
of them grows a last-minute heart, it feels about as authentic as
this year's Olympics Gold Medalists for the pairs figure skating event.
"Hart's War" also achieves the very unfortunate, very rare feat of
being a war movie that comes close to being unbearable to sit through--not
because it is gory or too intense, but because it moves at, roughly,
the pace of a box of rocks. It has been a long time since a film has
been so boring and forgettable because of its complete absence of
entertainment value. Watching flatly written and performed characters
going through the tired paces of a cliched storyline is not exactly
an appealing way to spend over two hours, especially when the running
time is so needlessly egregious. At the same time, not much of anything
happens through the course of the picture until the last act, and
what arrives rings sharply false.
The listless performances from an array of notable talents is dispiriting,
but fits well with the movie's other shortcomings. As in 2001's "American
Outlaws," Colin Farrell hints at the undeniable star power he might
be able to possess in the future, but is stuck in an awful movie.
Bruce Willis (2001's "Bandits"), as the difficult-to-pen-down William
McNamara, phones in his top-billed role. Willis, along with inferior
screenwriters Ray and George, have such a loose grip on McNamara that
he is more an apparition than a character. Terrence Dashon Howard
(2000's "Big Momma's House"), playing charged Lt. Lincoln Scott, flirts
with putting in the film's sole significant acting turn, but his part
is a stock one that has somewhat fallen victim to the cutting room floor.
With the current release of so many war pictures to theaters and a
renewed interest in patriotic themes, "Hart's War" stands as an unanimous
failure on all counts. With wooden dialogue, a dull undercurrent that
sterilizes the supposedly dramatic moments, and a finale that leaves
you thoroughly unmoved, director Hoblit is left running on empty for
this latest filmmaking attempt. "Hart's War" is worse than just uneven;
it leaves you not caring in the least about what is, essentially,
an important part of history.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman