Hart’s War (review)

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Escape from Die Hard

Lookin’ forward to that big new Bruce Willis action movie this weekend? Die Hard in Stalag 17, I think it’s called, and it’s got lots of stuff blowin’ up real good and Bruce playing some guy called Hart who runs around screaming “Yippie-ki-ay, Nazi motherfuckers!” Right?

Hate to disappoint, but there’s no such movie. There is a moderately diverting murder mystery/drama set at a WWII POW camp, starring some Irish kid that nobody’s heard of (and Bruce in a supporting role), but its intended audience is checking out the Available Showtimes board in the lobby and saying to each other, “I dunno, honey, I’m not really in the mood for a Die Hard movie…” Meanwhile, teenage boys are settling in with their Value Combos, ready to see some Nazis get their asses kicked, and it’s not too long after the movie gets rolling that they’re all getting restless and thinking, “What the hell is this shit, man?”

It’s really a shame that Hart’s War won’t find its audience — it could have done nice business among adult moviegoers, and MGM’s marketing department has no one to blame but themselves when it doesn’t — because while this isn’t Great Filum, it is a good time at Da Movies, in that semithoughtful way that lets you pretend you’re not turning your brain off for a while and just enjoying a good war story about honor and heroism and all those manly war things.

All of the good surprises of Hart’s War are utterly ruined by the trailer and the TV commercials, and if you’re already been contaminated by foreknowledge you may not enjoy what is basically a 1940s John Grisham novel set to film as much as I did. But here’s the spoiler-free nutshell, for those of you who don’t know the scoop: American army Lieutenant Tommy Hart (Colin Farrell: American Outlaws), son of an Important Rich Man back home, has enjoyed a pretty protected war, working in cozy HQs, but now a simple drive across French countryside gets him captured by the Germans. POW camp is no fun, particularly as the senior ranking American officer imprisoned there, Colonel William McNamara (Bruce!), has refused to let him bunk with the other officers — does McNamara have something personal against Hart? Looks that way. Things go from bad to worse when two newly captured black pilots — officers themselves — are also forced to bunk with enlisted men, right in Hart’s quarters. Not that Our Hero Tommy isn’t a fine, upstanding young American, yes sir — he gets along just fine with the black officers (Terrence Dashon Howard and Vicellous Reon Shannon) or is at least gentleman enough to keep his bigotry to himself. But the enlisted men, in particular one nasty piece of work called Bedford (Cole Hauser), have a problem sharing space with “niggers.”

So someone ends up dead, and Hart, as a law student before war interrupted school, is appointed to defend the accused killer. It kinda turns into A Few Good Men, with Bruce nearly telling Hart that he can’t handle the truth, and, yeah, it’s sorta yet another story about racism from the point of view of Whitey. Oh, and it can’t help but speechify beyond the point when we’ve already Gotten It. But it does touch on some of the hypocrisy that hid behind the U.S.’s WWII righteousness — though not so much that you still can’t have a good time while munching your popcorn.

But in spite of a bit of Hollywoodizing that will make you roll your eyes, Hart’s War is a damn good yarn, mostly down to Willis, in his usual crackerjack character-actor mode, and Farrell (the unknown Irish kid), who is completely delicious and has the kind of movie-star charisma that leaps off the screen to smack you in the face.

So, one more qualifier is needed, perhaps: If you haven’t seen the trailers and commercials, you’ll likely find Hart’s War a good waste of ten bucks. If you’ve got a boner for Colin Farrell, you’d waste twenty.

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