Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hart's War

On occasion, I find a hidden treasure in the bargain bin at Wal-Mart. While digging through the plethora of cheap five dollar movies looking for an addition to my DVD collection, I find an interesting mix of cinema. I guess it is a movie buffs version of shopping at flea markets. You never know what type of movie you’ll find amidst the scrambled clutter. One DVD that found it’s way into my hands recently was Hart’s War. I found a World War II movie starring Colin Farrell alongside Bruce Willis. Two actors I respect immensely in a World War II film…what’s not to like? I shelled out my five dollars (plus tax) and eagerly rushed home to unwrap my newfound gem.

Hart’s War begins with an innocuous trip from Headquarters. Lt Hart (Colin Farrell) has volunteered to transport a Captain to another post along with a crate of Champagne . It is 1944 and the Allies are gaining the advantage. So Lt Hart is caught off guard when Germans disguised as Military Police kill the Captain and end up taking Lt Hart captive. Lt Hart is interrogated and breaks with relative ease. After divulging his limited information, Lt Hart is sent on a harrowing trip to a POW camp. Airplanes strafe the POW planes as they are offloading at a depot, killing several POWs and adding some intensity to the tempo. What looks like a possible escape is thwarted when the ducking German’s quickly re-establish control and bring the POW’s back in line.

A forced march to the POW camp ends with an introduction to the penalty for trying to escape. Three POWs from the Russian camp are hung by their necks as a public admonition against flight. Lt Hart lies to the ranking POW, Colonel McNamara (Bruce Willis) regarding his interrogation and is assigned to bunk with the enlisted men in barracks 27. Following the capture of two black pilots, who are also billeted with Lt Hart, racism begins to change the direction of the film. Racial tension leads to the death of one pilot and the trial of another. The murder trial provides diversion for the undercurrent running throughout the film. A lack of trust, predicated upon by Lt Hart’s lack of honesty with Colonel McNamara leaves him outside of the loop regarding the hidden events transpiring in the camp. The trial progresses pitting Lt Hart against Colonel McNamara in a battle of wits and secrecy. The outcome of the movie becomes a testament to morality, honor and responsibility.

It took me a while to figure out where Hart’s War was going. I could tell from the synopsis that it was set within a POW camp. What started out as an adventure in capture and escape became a story about race relations, honor and duty. These elements converged at a point where it becomes difficult to determine the just course of action. The writing was intelligent and unpredictable. The screenplay was adapted by Billy Ray based on a novel written by John Katzenbach. I could deduce that the book was better, because of the strong character development and intriguing plot. The dialogue was a bit more predictable indicating that the screenplay was not quite as well written as the original. However, the dialogue was a minor distraction. The strong characters, interesting interactions and misdirection were carefully constructed to create an intriguing story.

Colin Farrell has played good guys and bad guys with equal capability. In Hart’s War he gets to be the good guy. A bit wet behind the ears, a bit gullible and a bit conflicted, but overall a good guy. Farrell does an exceptional job of bringing these character traits to life. A fallable character with negative character traits that really believes in justice and honor…combinations that make for a realistic character. Bruce Willis is a bit more type cast in his typical tough guy role, where he is the one in control. Willis excels at this type of character and delivers it with his normal intensity. Willis character is also flawed making the performance that much more enjoyable. Another notable performance came from Terrance Howard, who I also consider to be an excellent actor. Howard’s character Lt Scott) provided insight into the concept of honor that could not possibly have been matched by the other two characters. Lt Scott believes in America and understands the meaning of sacrifice in a way that only his character could explain it. Howard gave that character the credibility needed to sell the entire plot. An outstanding job by a veteran cast.

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