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Hart's War

Starring Bruce Willis and Colin Farrell
Screenplay by Billy Ray and Terry George
Based on the novel by John Katzenbach
Directed by Gregory Hoblit

IN SHORT: Not your average POW film, but well worth watching. [Rated R for some strong war violence and language. 125 minutes]

As always, no comparison is made to the Source Material. You shouldn't have to read the book to "get" the movie, and we got no sense of anything missing in this adaptation.

You know you're a really big star when you land a supporting role in a movie and still get your name above the title and teevee spots suggesting that you're the dramatic star of the movie. Honest to God folks, that's the sitch for Bruce Willis in Hart's War -- he does not play Hart -- not the wham bam pow kill all the Nazis and escape the Stalag while blowing everything up movie that the teevee ads would suggest, but a taut, terrifically written tale of a murder in a POW camp and the court martial of the black officer that takes revenge. The best part is, whether character or subplot, this film layers one deceit upon another, yielding a very cool sit.

Lieutenant Tom Hart (Colin Farrell) is the character at the center of the story that bears his name. He is a second year law student at Yale and the son of a Senator and protected from combat by dad's political clout, the deskbound officer still manages a peek at the French countryside as an occasional driver for men with more hardware on their epaulets than he. That volunteer spirit is what will lead to his capture and imprisonment by the enemy at Stalag VI in Augsburg, Germany. The leader of the Allied pack at the camp is Col. William McNamara (Bruce Willis) who questions the lieutenant and doesn't like what he hears. We know the real story. It will be a while before we discover what tripped up our "hero" in the eyes of the ranking officer.

But that's a piece of character development that we won't reveal. What is important to the story is the fact that our Armed Services were segregated until after W.W.II was concluded. Thus, when two of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen are captured and brought to this stalag, racist attitudes on the part of some of the troops come busting out. This delights the camp's Commandant, Col. Werner Visser (Marcel Iures), who tosses the covert/overt hypocrisy of the white Americans (versus the no holds barred Aryan racism) back at the officers, who bunk the Negro airmen officers Archer (Vicellous Shannon) and Lt. Lincoln A. Scott (Terrence Howard) alongside Hart in the grunt barracks.

It isn't long until everything boils over. One, Staff Sergeant Vic W. Bedford (Cole Hauser) -- the man who can get anything you need as long as you have something appropriate to trade -- sets up Archer by hiding a makeshift weapon in his bunk. Archer is summarily executed by the Krauts. A night or two later it is Bedford who is pushing up the daisies, while the remaining Tuskegee airman, Scott, is found standing over the body. What appears to be an open and shut case soon becomes theater for the camp, as a formal courts martial is demanded. Hart, the law student is appointed to represent Scott. The only full fledged lawyer in the camp is designated prosecutor. Can we all chime in to say "kangaroo court"?

Of course you could. Willis comes to the fore, running the courts martial in a way which leaves no doubt as to its outcome. Hart finds an ally in fellow Yalie Visser, who provides military manuals on court procedure to the novice. Thus the battle lines of Hart's "war" are drawn -- one officer with no sense of how war is fought from behind barbed wire lines versus a superior officer who has plans that we won't even hint at. It is here in the Third Act that Willis' character reveals what is really going on here, and our rules prevent us at telling you what he does. We will say that, when all was said and done, all jaws in our screening room had dropped low. As much as we expect big bam! POW! movies out of Mr. Willis, he's also started making it his specialty to pick scripts which toss completely unexpected twists at the audience at the very end. He does it again, in Hart's War.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Hart's War, he would have paid . . .


If Willis' name gets you to buy the ticket, fine. Stay for Farrell's outstanding performance and a shocking twist, or two.

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