It is implausible that internment was as comfortable as this movie would have us believe, a little like an overcrowded bunkhouse at summer camp.

HART'S WAR

An Illusion review by Joan Ellis


                As 1944 turned to 1945, American planes were flying over Germany giving new hope to American POWs below.  The prison camp in Augsburg, is run by the fiercely disciplined Col. Werner Visser (Marcel Iures).  The senior officer of the prisoner corps is Col. William McNamara (Bruce Willis).  The new arrival, Lt. Thomas Hart (Colin Farrell), quickly becomes the focus of the action.

                In a good scene, Col. McNamara debriefs Lt. Hart about his capture by the Germans and learns, though we don’t yet know how, that the young man lied about his interrogation at the hands of his captors.  In a movie that is a discourse on honor, this is unforgivable.  As punishment, the new prisoner, though an officer, is sent to live in the barracks housing enlisted men.  The featured player among the enlisted men is Sgt. Vic Bedford (Cole Hauser), accomplished black market trader, and sadistic racist.  

                Bedford’s brutality surfaces when he frames one of two newly arrived black pilots, lighting the fuse that will lead to a court-martial presided over by Col. McNamara and attended by German Col. Visser.  The movie becomes a courtroom drama that succeeds up to a point because the actors underplay their roles and even manage to give off the scent of fear.  But there are problems. 

                Recreating the wartime 40s is a tough assignment.  Near enough to us historically so older people know a lot, far enough away so that young people have no grasp on the reality of the time, “Hart’s War” feels manufactured.  It is implausible that internment was as comfortable as this movie would have us believe, a little like an overcrowded bunkhouse at summer camp.  It is even more improbable that the German colonel would hand the showboat role in a court-martial to an American prisoner.  Wouldn’t all of them have been summarily shot?  The virulent racism of one soldier seems fabricated to inject the racial issue to make it more topical, as if a movie about ambush, betrayal, honor, and war weren’t enough. 

                Bruce Willis is just not credible as a fourth generation West Point man.  Everything about Willis is contemporary, suited more to a modern brush fire war than to World War II.  Colin Farrell is more believable as Hart, a Yale Law School student and son of a senator, who is developing his values under pressure.  But, oddly, the movie is stolen by the German colonel.  Marcel Iures, whose irregular features can look almost monstrous at times, plays an educated man (another Yale man, class of ’28) with an interesting and mysterious combination of arrogance and intellect. 

                Though Hollywood was not on top of this one historically, the intrigue and sub-plots that proliferate in the tight culture of the prison camp do hold your attention.  Being reminded of the code of honor and accountability that seems to have vanished from modern life is a welcome distraction from our own troubled times.   Too bad Hollywood messed up the details. 


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