It's 1945, and Lieutenant Tommy Hart (Colin Farrell) has been captured behind enemy lines in Nazi Germany. Sent to a POW camp run by the ruthless Nazi Major Wilhem Visser (Marcel Iures, "Mission Impossible"), Hart soon meets the man in charge of the American prisoners, Colonel William McNamara (Bruce Willis). When the arrival of two African-American POWs ignites racism and homicide in the camp, Hart finds himself in the center of a court martial, defending a panicky pilot (Terrence Howard) from the charges of cold blooded murder.
With "Hart's War" (IMDb listing) entering the warfare movie sweepstakes, the one element that it has in its favor is that it isn't just another guns and brawn action film. Though MGM would love for you to think it's all barnstorming planes and hissing Nazis (just take a look at the trailer, the posters or the commercials), "War" is mainly a courtroom drama and a small contemplation on military racism. It's a somber film, supported by solid performances and a director who isn't willing to steer his film into larger dramatic sweepstakes.
Remaining tightly structured doesn't necessarily mean the film packs any kind of punch, though. Often lethargically paced, "Hart's War" has trouble keeping up the excitement in the meek story that makes up the core of the film. Courtroom dramas are notoriously difficult to keep suspenseful, and "War" cannot maintain the interest level for very long. The themes of honor and duty get in the way of the intrigue, thus slicing the impact of the whodunit in half. I didn't manage to work up interest in the endless monologues that each character is allowed about what it means to fight in war, nor did I care for the subtle attempts to humanize the Nazi characters, only to drop the fascinating sympathy angle (thus returning them to "I know nuzing!" cartoon land) once it was time to focus back on the war efforts. Director Gregory Hoblit ("Frequency"), working from a novel by John Katzenbach, has trouble balancing all the different tones and messages of the picture. He has mastered the cold, arid look and the tense feel of the film, but "Hart's War" is far too wobbly dramatically to end up sticking with you the day after.
Another gross misdirection in the marketing is suggesting that Bruce Willis is the central character of the film. While Willis does feature a little more than the rest of the supporting cast, actor Colin Farrell is the actual lead of the picture. Farrell, coming off his great work in Joel Schumacher's "Tigerland" and his first career mistake with "American Outlaws," brings to "Hart's War" an unusual amount of confidence in his acting. He's stellar in "War," and manages to make Willis look bad just with his inner fire and seeming pleasure to just be performing. I can't say the same for Willis, who barely raises an eyebrow in his performance. Mercifully, the two share minimal scenes together, with the focus all on Farrell to carry "War" successfully to the end.
"Hart's War" doesn't really revel in its WWII setting, nor does it reinvent it. A colorless exercise in wartime drama, "War" has enough good acting and locations to find its way around for about an hour, but without support from the story or the pace, quickly loses passion as it goes.
Filmfodder Grade: C