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HART'S WAR

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Bruce Willis, Colin Farrell, Terrence Howard, Cole Hauser, Marcel Iures, Linus Roache
Director: Gregory Holbit
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French, Spanish, & Portuguese Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Standard 1.33:1
Studio: MGM
Features: See Review
Length: 125 Minutes
Release Date: July 9, 2002

ďIf one man has to be sacrificed to take out that target, then thatís the way it has to be.Ē

ďI agree completely, sir.Ē

ďGood.Ē

ďBut I think that one man should be you!Ē

Film ***1/2

The past several months have been swamped with endless films involving the military. In fact, ever since Pearl Harbor invaded theaters over a year ago, and with the crisis of 9/11, Hollywood felt it very necessary to land an endless array of war films as a possible way of celebrating the American spirit. Films such as Black Hawk Down, Behind Enemy Lines, We Were Soldiers, and the current Windtalkers have helped to make the war movie genre more alive than ever. While those films all do remarkable job of capturing action within the confines of a specific battlefield, Hartís War, another acceptable entry in the war film genre, captures a battle of a different sort; one away from a battlefield.

Set upon a Nazi prison camp during the midst of World War II, Hartís War is a unique story of honor and courage, when both are strongly needed even in battles far away from an actual war. The filmís central character is Lt. Thomas Hart (Colin Farrell), whose expertise has kept him away from the battlefield and more within the confines of military headquarters. That all changes though when Hart, agreeing to aid a soldier to a specific location, is captured by enemy troops and soon put on a prisoner train en route to the Nazi prison camp known as Stalag VI A in Augsburg. After surviving a sudden massacre when first arriving nearby the camp, Hart meets the man who controls his barrack, Col. William McNamara (Bruce Willis) who quickly informs the new arrival on the daily rules, including most of all, how not to enrage their Nazi captors and getting killed in the process.

Situations grow even more complicated when two new soldiers, Lieutenants Scott (Terrence Howard) and Archer (Vicellous Shannon), enter the barracks. Since the two new arrivals are black, it invokes much heated racial tension from some of the racist soldiers in the barrack, particularly that of Sgt. Bedford (Cole Hauser). It isnít too long until Archer is framed for a crime and killed on the spot, enraging Lt. Scott, who suspects Bedford of the foul play. When Bedford turns up dead, and Scott as the prime suspect, an unexpected gesture is executed. The head of the prison camp, Col. Visser (Marcel Iures) allows Lt. Scott to stand trial for the murder, and McNamara immediately assigns Hart as Scottís lawyer. Itís seems more like a no-win situation, since Hart claims not to be a lawyer, though in McNamaraís eyes, he thinks and talks like one.

From this point on, Hartís War elevates into an enigma of a courtroom mystery that is very professionally handled by a finely tuned screenplay by Billy Ray and Terry George. Along the way, there are numerous unexpected twists and turns as the true motivation for the trial is revealed, and every surprise near the end is crafted in a most original way.

The performances are superb and of top notch quality. Bruce Willis, in another superbly subtle performance, delivers a first in the sense that the character he is playing is a bit complicated. There is a certain point in the film where youíre not sure whose side heís on, or what his motivations are, and Willis perfects this notion throughout the film. The real star of the movie, though, is newcomer Colin Farrell, who delivered a knockout debut performance in Tigerland, and can currently be seen in the excellent Minority Report, as the title character of Hart. Farrell brings to this performance a strong sense of realism and dedication just like a true-life military lawyer would, from my point of view. Finally, Terrence Howard is absorbing as the soldier on trial who fears that race is the sole purpose of his conviction.

Hartís War is a top-notch military drama, and the best movie of its kind since Courage Under Fire.

Video ****

This is by far MGM most outstanding video transfer in quite sometime, meaning that image remains perfected from frame one to final frame. The settings of the movie include scenes that take place mainly outdoors, and the snow-filled settings of Germany are captured wonderfully. Even the darker lit scenes turn up excellent, and the many absorbing colors appear a hundred percent vibrant. A striking video presentation that truly ranks among the studiosí all time best-looking DVDs.

Audio ***1/2

For the most part, Hartís War is a dramatic piece composed mainly of dialogue, but it does carry a few action scenes that sound absolutely stunning in this soaring 5.1 channel mix. These two or three scenes arenít exactly lengthy, but they standout as the most outstanding moments in the presentation. But even away from the action, the audio transfer triumphs in other areas, including dialogue and distinctive sounds provided by the setting.

Features ***

A nice list of extras this time around from MGM, including two commentary tracks, one with Bruce Willis, director Gregory Holbit and screenwriter Billy Ray, and the other by producer David Foster, ten deleted scenes with optional director commentary, a photo gallery, and a trailer for this film, as well as one for Windtalkers.

Summary:

Hartís War scores high on every level. It unfortunately failed in its theatrical run, so this underrated piece really deserves to be discovered again.