The DVD Journal | Quick Reviews: Hart's War
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Hart's War

The World War II POW epic Hart's War has not one, but two commentary tracks. Why? Maybe because some folks thought we might forget how dreadfully boring this picture really was via diversion tactics like Bruce Willis yacking on about character development, or how cold it was on set, or how brave those men in Hogan's — um, we mean, Hart's war really were. No, really? Bravery, honor and valor? And we thought our soldiers stuck in Nazi-run POW camps were such babies. But to be fair, Willis is just giving a hand to a movie that undoubtedly appealed to him as something meaningful. And who could blame him? There's nothing insignificant about American prisoners of war. And by many accounts, these men were some cool characters. They had attitude. They had balls. They had grace under pressure. And Willis, the charismatic everyman, embodies this beautifully. But if only the script gave not only Willis, but everyone else in the picture, something more to do than look concerned or cool. New talent Colin Farrell (who cuts a more impressive figure in Minority Report) plays Lt. Thomas Hart, a privileged Yale law student and soldier who hasn't experienced battle. But while transporting an officer during an intelligence mission, he becomes entangled in a Nazi trap. Stuck in one of those horrid, cramped boxcars, Hart is sent to a POW camp where he immediately witnesses the hangings of two Russian soldiers. Meanwhile, the American prisoners' salute at the Nazis is a provocative insult (the commentary with director Gregory Hoblit, writer Billy Ray and Willis actually offers some interesting historical reference for this point and others as well as a few interesting details about the shoot itself). Leading the salute is Colonel William McNamara (Willis), introduced slyly through barbed wire and fence. The German camp head is Wilhelm Visser (Marcel Iures), one of those classy, sexy, but serpentine Nazis who listens to American jazz records and drinks brandy in his office while plotting hate. Visser seems to like and respect McNamara, but McNamara doesn't trust the more liberal, educated Hart, thinking Hart leaked information while being tortured. The "drama" begins when two Negro soldiers enter the camp. These men, Lt. Lincoln Scott (Terrence Howard) and Lamar Archer (Vicellous Reon Shannon), suffer racism not just by the Nazis but the Americans as well, and eventually Scott is accused of murdering a disagreeable soldier. And suddenly Hart's War becomes a courtroom drama wherein Hart defends Scott, to the apparent amusement of the Nazis. No Dirty Dozen action, no Hogan's Heroes antics — in fact, Hoblit stated that much of the film's humor was cut out because they were afraid the film would seem like Hogan's Heroes. Though handsomely mounted, and well acted, Hart's War is a tedious drag, and not in a gritty, realistic, depressing way, but in a safe, good-intentions way. Burdening old-fashioned entertainment with an over-earnestness towards its subject (the same problem with director Hoblit's almost-great horror picture Fallen), the movie just takes itself too seriously. MGM's DVD release of Hart's War presents a pristine transfer of this darkly lit, effectively drab picture in both anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and pan-and-scan (1.33:1). It's a beautiful transfer, complementing the gorgeous location shooting and meticulous set design. Audio comes in Dolby Digital 5.1, which is great for action sequences and the genuine bombers that were used. Supplements include the aforementioned audio commentaries, a photo gallery, and a trailer. Also notable are the deleted scenes, all of which involve the two black characters and give their roles greater dimension. Keep-case.
—Kim Morgan



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