Hart’s Bore is a more appropriate title for this mishmash of a war movie that starts out strongly before quickly losing its focus, point and purpose in a mess of mixed messages, over blown drama and Bruce Willis with a scar.
Lt. Thomas Hart (Colin Farrell) is a sitting part of World War II, working from a desk instead of on the front. Following an ambush Hart is captured by the Germans and sent to a largely populated P.O.W. camp where he learns that rank isn’t always everything. Grizzled warrior Col. William McNamara (Bruce Willis) has seen it all in his day, living every moment for the good of his great country. He’s a man about honour, respect and staying in line-the John Wayne style of justice. Legend has it McNamara survived months of torturous interrogation by the Germans, whereas Hart lasted all of three days, making the green Lt. a sissy in comparison not deserving of respect.
Yet Hart has those bars on his shoulders and McNamara has to at least acknowledge it, even if he doesn’t welcome him into his circle of officers. Hart is assigned to look after a ragtag barracks of lowly enlisted men whose make-up is shaken up when a pair of black P.O.W.s Scott (Terrence Howard) and Archer (Vicellous Shannon) are assigned to share the same quarters. The white soldiers still hold the belief that all blacks are inferior and therefore do not belong in their tent. Well, all except Hart who is just so darned wholesome and just symbolically forward thinking enough to show us how ignorant we were some 60 years ago. Hate turns to murder and all of a sudden Hart’s War has gone from a fascinating prisoner movie, to A Few Good Men Stuck Behind a Barbed Wire Fence.
The composition of the film is strong enough. Director Gregory Hoblit (Frequency) has an eye for cold deep focus shots that capture the long winter days the soldiers must endure and the isolation they are trapped in. The acting, especially Farrell, is also strong for the most part. Howard and Shannon both play charged roles with a calculating and deliberate stoicness, offsetting the largely unredeemed racism that wafts throughout the film.
Other than that, there isn’t much to like about Hart’s War. The movie never really knows where it wants to go, walking all over the map from escape movie, to racial tension, to courtroom dramatics. The focus is all over the place, reducing the plot to a couple of key confrontations and always leaving the door open for some old-fashioned Bruce Willis heroics. The rest of the movie is throw away fodder, wasted time I will never see again.
It is rare that a film’s ideology turns me off completely. Hart’s War is one such instance. The majority of the film follows a racist path where all of the ignorant soldiers are given power, even among the Americans. Although they’re both high-ranking lieutenants, both Scott and Archer are demeaned and disrespected. The Nazis show them more honour than their fellow countrymen. Of course, there’s short background stories told and the assumption that the present-day audience no longer believes such things, but the overlying attitude of the film is disturbing. The movie tires to make attempts to make amends, but these make it even shallower as they come across as forced.
Still, like most any war movie, Hart’s War glorifies the situation, making everyone a hero, even the ones who don’t deserve to be. Because he’s been in the war so long, McNamara is a hero by default. Never mind the fact that he thinks of himself first and disguises it as good leadership. But McNamara has a scar on his face. I guess that makes him tough by default.
Had Hart’s War stuck with Farrell the film might have had a chance. Instead the movie’s a case where an A-list superstar is given all the glory, even when there is little to give. As far as flag-waving ra-ra war movies go, Hart’s War is about as genuine as the person on the other end of my phone line trying to sell me a newsstand worth of magazine subscriptions.
Hart’s War Gallery