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Hart's War Review

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In a World War II POW camp, callow young Lt. Hart is called upon to defend a black airman accused of killing a fellow prisoner. But the senior American officer there, Col. William McNamara, uses the ensuing court martial as cover for a daring escape attempt.

★★★★★

What might surprise you about Hart's War, especially if you have seen the trailer, or even the poster campaign, is that it is not a blow-shit-up, World War II action-fest with Bruce Willis vanquishing the Nazis as G.I. Joe McClane.

Nor, despite its prisoner of war camp setting, is it an update of The Great Escape clinging to the coat-tails of the current vogue for war movies.

It is something altogether more ambitious than that - an intense human drama that explores the themes of heroism through self-sacrifice, and the price paid by individuals in the pursuit of the common good.

Hart's War eschews the type of vigorous flag-waving we've become reluctantly accustomed to in American war films, and it's to be praised for that.

It also contains an unflinching portrayal of the vicious racism that polluted the ranks of the U.S. military (usually avoided in such movies) and even attempts, if not always entirely successfully, to avoid a cliched depiction of the Germans (Marcel Lures' Harvard-educated commandant, Col. Visser, conforms to its own mild stereotype).

The film has some effective moments - the court martial sequence is gripping enough and the performances, with one crucial exception, are excellent. What lets it down are Hoblit's emotionally remote direction, a screenplay that isn't up to the weight of the material, and a disastrously miscast Willis in the central role.

He simply cannot summon either the fortitude or the dignity required by the role, and the sight of him sweating to bend that unruly smirk into an expression of stoical, man's-gotta-do nobility is painful to behold. The outrageously bogus hairpiece doesn't help either.

Potentially interesting and not a disaster by any means. But it's got problems, not the least of which is Willis, who is unconvincing as a military commander who sacrifices himself for his men.