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Hart's War

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
Hart's War
from Film Forum, 02/21/02

That's Bruce Willis on the poster, but Colin Farrell is the star of Hart's War, the new military thriller from director Gregory Holbit (Frequency.) The preview promises explosions and combat action, but for the most part, this is a cerebral drama about soldiers restrained in a German prison camp during World War II. Bruce Willis plays Colonel William McNamara, the top-ranking American officer in a German POW camp who tries to direct his fellow prisoners to behave honorably while the German colonel (the much-praised Marcel Iures) looks on. Colin Farrell plays a soldier appointed to work on a court-marshal that involves murder and racism in the camp, but the more he investigates, the more he realizes there is far more going on within the barbed wire than meets the eye.

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) reports, "Hoblit keeps Hart's War moving at a methodical pace, focusing on the human dynamics of the characters' relationships rather than filling the screen with action sequences. It makes for a fuller, richer, film experience."

David Bruce (Hollywood Jesus) says, "It's about courage, it's about honor. It's a very good film. If you like a good war film, it has a brilliant message, well-written."

"The film engages while teaching lessons concerning the wrongness of prejudice," says Phil Boatwright (The Movie Reporter). "It gives examples of honor, courage, and sacrifices made by soldiers at war. Terrific performances from all."

"I really enjoyed Hart's War because it's a different kind of war story," writes Holly McClure (Crosswalk). "I encourage parents to take their mature teenagers to see this movie and discuss some of the key elements about honor, courage, bravery and taking a stand for your beliefs."

Ted Snyder (Movieguide) says the film "focuses on moral, patriotic themes of honor, duty, courage, goodwill toward one's fellow man, and, above all, sacrifice and laying down one's life for others, including one's country and fellow countrymen. [Its] Christian worldview and … moral elements, handled so splendidly, give Hart's War a depth of meaning that transcends mere Hollywood popcorn cinema. [It should] delight Christians who love the possibilities of cinema as a divinely inspired art form."

But Ed Crumley (Preview) is not delighted: "Although the movie features dramatically authentic visuals, the fictional story suffers with an air of unreal reactions, an odor of political correctness, and displays of personal introspection that seem in some ways foreign to the time."

J. Robert Parks (The Phantom Tollbooth) criticizes the film's final 30 minutes, which collapse. "Not content to make the American soldiers merely honorable, Hart's War goes over the top. [Several characters] take turns outdoing each other in the race to see who's willing to sacrifice more. It gets genuinely silly at the end, and the movie's reach for glory falls painfully flat. Then, as if we in the audience were too dense to understand what's just happened, we're treated to a banal voiceover pontificating on the nature of heroism and honor. Please!" But he forgives the film's weaknesses in view of its strengths. "Hart's War is a nice change of pace for the war movie. Eschewing most of the big battle scenes, it instead focuses on the relationships of soldiers who don't always get along even as they serve under the same flag."

Mainstream critics referred to it as "an actor's showcase," but many were stunned and disappointed by the film's conclusion.

"The movie worked for me right up to the final scene, and then it caved in," says Roger Ebert. "Bowing to ancient and outdated convention, [the filmmakers] put the plot through an awkward U-turn so that Willis can end up as a hero."

Stephen Hunter (The Washington Post ) writes, " The movie is … much better in its first half than in its second, where the genre melding grows awkward. It more or less self-destructs in a ridiculous last few minutes when it becomes a noble sacrifice-o-rama."