Review: “Hart’s War”

An old-fashioned almost 60’s-era courtroom drama style tale of racism, “Hart’s War” tries to be different by having its proceedings take place around a German WW2 POW camp – and sadly the trick doesn’t work.

A solid cast and production values combine to give the movie a rich palate to work from but there’s a lack of focus and direction with both the script and pace which causes the film to meander and lose itself on more than one occasion.

In fact its the non-courtroom elements in this which work best including some surprisingly powerful action sequence around midway, and the opening 15-20 minutes as the great cinematography of snow covered forests of Europe combine with a believable and well shot sequence where Lt. Hart (Farrell) is caught and interrogated by the Germans.

Shame really as for the continually impressive Farrell its a welcome sight to see him in a leading dramatic role again even if it only shows off a smidgeon of the talent he displayed in “Tigerland”.

Farrell’s “loss of innocence” storyline in the early scenes remain the film’s best – thrown into dire situations, stripped and then dumped in the camp, Farrell is able to convey the shock and then grim determination required for his character’s arc. He plays quite well off the brick wall that Bruce Willis seems to have become these days, and easily steals all the scenes he’s in.

In fact the cast all round is quite solid with Terrence Howard shining as Lt. Scott – the black soldier on trial, Cole Hauser slips into his usual grunt routine, whilst Marcel Iures gives a strong role as the German camp head Col. Visser. The short conversations he and Hart have in the latter half of the film spark with far more energy than any scene Willis shows up in.

Still, solid acting and visuals aren’t enough to keep a movie flowing. Where ‘Hart’ falls down is that unlike a lot of films these days, this one tries to do too many things at once and sadly fails to properly convey any of its story.

Part prisoner escape drama, part courtroom trial, part racial intolerance lesson, part ‘coming of age’ story, its a potpourri of assorted themes, subplots and characters which never blends smoothly though when the focus does shift to one particular field and stays with it – the result is some quite engaging drama that’s all too fleeting.

Director Gregory Hoblit has shown he can handle complex interwoven plots and characters before (see 1996’s brilliant “Primal Fear”) but here he especially lets it all crumble into preachiness and cliched courtroom shocks which stretch credibility in many ways. Its a nice try but in the end a failed attempt.