Hart's War
3 stars

by Stephen Notley

Okay, so Hart's War is the new Bruce Willis war movie. Except it's not so much a war movie as a prison camp movie. And it's not so much a prison camp movie as a military tribunal/courtroom movie. 

There's such a welter of military-themed movies out there or on the way  --Black Hawk Down, Behind Enemy Lines, Collateral Damage, Mel Gibson's upcoming We Were Soldiers, and apparently John Woo has something coming out this summer called Windtalkers -- that it looks like Hart's War is going to be the one most likely to slip through the cracks. Not that it's bad, per se. It's just that it tries to have it three ways, war-prison camp-courtroom, so it kinda comes off like one of those video games that's really just a bunch of minigames. Each one's fun and all, but they don't quite add up to a full-on good time.

Oh sure, there's some war moments, some strafing-guys-on-the-ground action, some explosions. And there's some prison camp moments, with the evil prison guards and the would-be escapees getting hung. And there's some courtroom stuff, with the big reveals and the who's-the-real-murderer twists. But, sadly, they're all a little less than the sum of their parts.

Bruce Willis, as it turns out, isn't the Hart of the title. No, Hart is a wet-behind-the-ears lieutenant who takes a real wrong turn and ends up in a German POW camp. Willis plays the colonel, the highest-ranking officer among the American prisoners. And what's Hart's War? Well, see, two black American pilots get shot down and end up in the same prison camp, there's some racism, somebody gets murdered and bam -- one of the pilots is on trial, and Hart has to defend him. 

One might wonder why the Nazis would bother with trials or court martials in their own prison camp. In this case, it's all part of the little duel of wills Willis has going with the not-entirely evil German commander of the camp. He's played by a guy named Marcel Iures, a dude who could pass for Jeremy Irons at forty yards or in this movie, and he's probably the best thing here. It's a nice arch, understated performance, with a cool web of tension between him, Willis and the hapless Hart.

Hart's War is directed by Gregory Hoblit, a guy who keeps putting out pretty-good movies but who can never quite seem to hit; he's also responsible for Fallen (the horror movie where Denzel Washington chases a demon who can move from body to body) and Frequency (the Dennis Quaid-as-a-firefighter-who-gets-messages-from-the-past movie). Hoblit's not really a big name, but he's a solid director who makes dark, serious movies and makes them pretty well. He's got a grey, white and dark blue vision for this film, and it looks good, as far as it goes.  Someday he's going to have a big hit, but not today.