The first part of Hart’s War is a good, straight-ahead World War II movie. Filming was done in and around Prague, so we are given a backdrop of the wintry skies and forests of an area near Germany. Starting with these elements, the cinematographer (Alar Kivilo) creates a rich texture, using the steely grays and blues of the sky, of the trains and train yards, and the muted greens, browns and grays of the forests, military uniforms and buildings — all surrounded and highlighted by the ever-present snow. During Lt. Tommy Hart’s (Colin Farrell) initial internment and on the train ride to a POW camp, there is an ethereal look and feel — almost liquid. In the scenes that feature the exquisite aerial ballet of P-51 Mustangs as they strafe ground targets and engage in dog fights, the essential grace of these aircraft is well captured. The POW camp looks authentic — everything being generally dingy, with a layer of dust on interior surfaces. This first part of the movie tells the story of a man drawn further and further into the war, exploring his capture and his ultimate imprisonment. Just when Director Gregory Hoblit has also firmly drawn the audience in, events occur that suddenly shift us into a second story — and here’s where the problems begin. From this point, the focus is on a military murder trial (a court martial) that the Americans are allowed to hold in the camp theater. The trial is dominated by the attitudes and feelings that surround the issue of racism within an army at war. It would take some time on screen to deal effectively with such huge issues and their effect on those involved. Unfortunately, not enough time is given here to do that. The trial scenes and discourses don’t mesh well with the larger circumstance of being in a POW camp, simply because we aren’t shown how — or even if — the events have any effect on the prisoners’ daily lives. Just as important, the character who is most responsible for the trial and everything that occurs in this part of the film, Col. William McNamara (Bruce Willis), seems barely present. We are given far too little information on his past or who he is for us to remain truly involved in the trial (he’s the prosecutor and ranking officer in camp). There are some great speeches and moments, mostly delivered by Lt. Lincoln Scott (Terence Howard), but due to the poor development of this part of the film, I didn’t retain much memory of these high points. It’s always interesting to see if Bruce Willis has acquired any acting skills yet. What a sad commentary on American filmmaking that someone who hasn’t learned how to portray anyone besides himself has ended up in so many feature films. However, in this film, I thought that Willis was finally beginning to show some range: I noticed a few facial expressions that weren’t from the same three or four that he usually affects. The section of the film where he seemed to really be acting (for him) was the first 20 minutes or so his character was on screen. After that, as the trial and surrounding events became more intense, his character became just a sort of embodiment of the events themselves. In this segment, he puts on his standard “stern, defiant frown,” and leaves it on for the remainder of the film, so most of his close-ups become tiresome. Once again, he turns into a cliche. In his defense, the writing here didn’t give him much to work with. Even so, he did manage to give the impression of someone who, underneath, was preoccupied and disturbed, which fit in well with the general flow of the story. In my view, though, he’s still learning how to act, and the American public is paying full ticket price to finance his lessons.
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