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When Col. William McNamara (Willis) is stripped of his freedom in a German POW camp, he's determined to keep on fighting even from behind enemy lines. Enlisting the help of a young lieutenant (Farrell) in a brilliant plot against his captors, McNamara risks everything on a mission to free his men and change the outcome of the war.
For more about Hart's War and the Hart's War Blu-ray release, see Hart's War Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on January 4, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Bruce Willis, Colin Farrell, Terrence Howard, Marcel Iures, Cole Hauser, Sam Worthington
Director: Gregory Hoblit
» See full cast & crew
Hart's War Blu-ray Review
'The Great Escape' meets 'Glory' circa WWII in this compelling meditation on what "master race" really means.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, January 4, 2010
Those of you who, like I did, grew up as children of "The Greatest Generation" know that rightly or wrongly there was a certain assumed moral superiority to being on the winning side of World War II. I've mentioned my father in another review; he was a much decorated war veteran who ended his career as a Major General, but like most guys who fought "the good fight" (there's that moral superiority peeking out), he was rather reticent to discuss his wartime experiences. That said, there was no question that he, and I'm sure virtually all who joined him in the monumental attempt to defeat fascism and Nazism, had absolutely no moral qualms that what they were doing was on the side of the angels, as it were. Let's leave the Italians and Japanese out of the equation for a moment, and just concentrate on the Germans. Here was a people convinced of their own moral (and physical) superiority, and they coupled that with an insane regimen of assassinating any group which didn't rise to their self-perceived levels of Aryan purity. And so it's not hard to see why Americans would scorn them and find nothing ambivalent about their own views on various shades and types of humanity. That dichotomy is front and center in the largely riveting Hart's War, a neat little twist on the standard POW drama which follows the story of Lieutenant Hart (Colin Farrell) after he is imprisoned in a German camp which then takes in a couple of African American Tuskegee Airmen. While Americans may have scorned the Germans for their own delusions about being a "Master Race," the irony of that viewpoint is brought home in Hart's War's depiction of some of the virulent racism that colored (pun intended) a very different kind of "master" race. The film makes some cogent points about honor and sacrifice along the way. If it's hampered by one of the most egregiously awful Blu-ray authoring jobs in recent memory, the film itself is really a very interesting, and often completely compelling, meditation on how our personal biases can blind us into thinking we're better than "the other guy."
The film begins with Farrell's character getting blindsided by some Germans and being taken POW. When he's delivered shortly thereafter to a camp whose ranking American is a crusty Colonel named McNamara (Bruce Willis), he quickly discovers that the very speed of his delivery after capture belies his denials that he has given up any confidential information. The fact that McNamara does not believe Hart is further enforced by Hart's exile from the officers' barracks to an overcrowded Enlisted Men's hangar, where Hart finds himself both lost and, ironically, in charge. The twists and turns of Hart's War increase when two captured Tuskegee airmen (including Terrence Howard as a Lt. Scott) arrive and, due to their race, are, like Hart, not allowed to bivouac with the officers but are instead stuck in with the enlisted men, several of whom are avowed, and rather proud, racists in the "good ol' boy" tradition. When one of the more virulent racists (played by the excellent Cole Hauser),who has plotted to discredit one of the black airmen, is found murdered, Lt. Scott is accused and McNamara appoints Hart to defend him at the (ahem) military tribunal.
This brief précis hopefully points up both the strengths and weaknesses of Hart's War. On the one hand, we're presented with a really nifty take on your everyday standard prisoner of war drama, one rife with lots of politically correct posturing about race relations, personal honor and individual sacrifice. On the other hand, that very innovativeness splays the film in unexpected ways, depriving it of some of the Great Escape or even Stalag 17 ambitions to which it aspires. Hart's War seems to want to be both a rip roaring World War II POW drama, while simultaneously exchewing most of the action adventure tropes which define that genre. It's actually virtually completely successful as a smaller scale character drama, where the POW aspect works as a sort of McGuffin necessitating the characters' close quarters but really providing no emotional impact in and of itself. In that respect it most closely resembles Glory, not just for the racial aspects being explored, but for the focus on character rather than battle extravaganzas.
Both Willis, who thankfully is almost entirely tic-free and less mannered than he can be at times, and Farrell, who is amassing one of the most diverse and interesting resumes of current day stars, are excellent and often extremely compelling in their roles. Both McNamara and Hart are generational mirror images of each other. McNamara's disdain of Hart's collapse under Nazi questioning really only masks his own checkered history, bringing the film its real emotional import as events catapult toward a somewhat foreseeable denouement. Howard is understated and actually refined as Scott, bringing the gravitas this role demands, especially since it stands as a great Symbol (capital "S" and all) for the unfairly scarred Black soul and psyche.
Hart's War was a major fiasco at the box office, due probably in no small part to a marketing campaign which evidently didn't know how to address the dichotomous nature of the film itself. For home video enthusiasts, that bifurcated dramatic approach may be off putting as well, but for lovers of generally finely rendered character drama, the film offers some cogent ruminations while largely ignoring the very era and environment it so painstakingly attempts to recreate. As strange as it may sound, however, that actually turns out to be Hart's War's saving grace. By removing the World War II aspect from the gist of the points it's making, the film becomes more universal and applicable to our current thinking about "just wars" against "inferior races." One need only turn to the evening news to know how relevant those issues are for us today.
Hart's War Blu-ray, Video Quality
Hart's War arrived at the dawn of the Blu-ray era and was encoded via MPEG 2. The good news is, when this 2.35:1 1080p transfer is good, it is very good indeed. As you'll see from many of the screenshots included here, the bulk of the film is bathed in shades of cool blues and greens, and the Blu-ray supports that blanched palette admirably. Detail can be excellent, especially in the close-ups of faces, where every craggy crease on Willis' visage is completely evident. However, when this transfer is bad, it is horrible. The opening scenes are beset with such appalling edge enhancement and overarching line shimmer on such items as waving field of wheat, I almost wanted to turn the thing off in the first few minutes. The artifacting continued to raise its ugly head throughout the film, notably in scenes with backlighting, where such things as fence latticeworks clearly showed edge enhancement. This is a case of "cup half empty" or "cup half full," depending on your own individual tolerance for such issues. I found the artifacting distracting enough to seriously impact my enjoyment of at least some scenes in the film. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
Hart's War Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Luckily Hart's War's DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix at least partially makes up for the shoddiness of the video quality. I say partially because this is not a big, bombastic typical "war film." While the opening sequence where Hart is captured is wonderfully visceral, with zinging bullet sounds and explosions filling the surround channels and creating an admirably lifelike soundfield, the bulk of this film is quieter, dialogue driven material and therefore less likely to set your ears ablaze with "wow" moments. That said, this is a clear and clearly designed sound mix, with really excellent directionality and just enough surround use in ambient environmntal effects to craft a convincingly immersive experience. This comes not in the bombast of explosions (though there are a few of those), but in quieter effects like the "plop" of water dripping in Hart's first barren cell, or the sharp crack of footsteps through the frozen dawn of the POW camp. This really is a nicely subtle piece of soundmixing, perhaps too subtle for those expecting a knockout war movie experience.
Hart's War Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Only trailers are included, which I refuse to count as supplements.
Hart's War Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
More successful as a quiet character drama than as either a POW piece or, frankly, a sociopolitical screed on race relations, Hart's War is buoyed by three compelling performances by Farrell, Howard and Willis. The picture quality on this early-days Blu-ray release leaves a bit to be desired, but the film's lack of commercial success means this is probably the only hi-def release we'll see of this title. It's an interesting film from several standpoints, never completely successful, but just compelling enough that it's recommended for an evening's rental.
Hart's War: Other Editions
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