By Sherrie Li
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Hart’s War is a thriller with a brave desire to open up the notion of American honor to the kind of intense scrutiny it rarely receives. For this reason the movie, directed by Gregory Hoblit (Primal Fear), has the virtue of coming across a good deal less smug and self-congratulatory — unless you count the performance of Bruce Willis, who appears to have abandoned all pretense of acting in favor of a demented smirk — than the average big-budget war movie. In the dying days of World War II, Tommy Hart (Colin Farrell), a young Army lieutenant, finds himself in a German POW camp run by what appears to be the usual granite-faced Nazi camp commandant (played by Romanian actor Marcel Iures). Having offended his own new commanding officer, Colonel McNamara (Willis), Hart is assigned an impossible task. A law student in civilian life and the cosseted son of a U.S. senator, Hart must defend a black POW (Terrence Howard) accused of murdering a white rank-and-file soldier who, with enthusiastic support from his fellow grunts, had tormented him with epithets that would flush the cheeks of the most committed contemporary Klansman. To Hart’s astonishment, Camp Commandant Visser, a former Yalie who’s been quick to point out parallels between American racism and the Nazis’ love of the Übermensch, offers to help the case for the defense in any way he can. As the young lieutenant prepares his brief, he uncovers a plot that will force him and those around him to make some difficult choices about patriotism, private morality and self-interest.
On the face of it, Hart’s War, which is based on a novel by John Katzenbach — whose father, Nicholas, was first a POW in World War II and later a U.S. attorney general under Lyndon Johnson — is no more than a decent thriller trying to overcome a rather preposterous premise. Given the openly rabid racism that prevailed in and out of the U.S. military in the 1940s — and is fully acknowledged in the movie — an on-the-spot lynching may have been a more likely outcome of this scenario than a trial. Yet even as the film finally unravels in an orgy of improbable self-sacrifice all round, one is won over by its abdication of America-first arrogance, its generous appreciation for human fallibility, and a spirit of self-criticism that’s all too rare now that we’re so busy demonizing the Other.LITTLE OTIK | Written and directed by JAN SVANKMAJER Produced by JAROMIR KALLISTA | Released by Zeitgeist Films | At the Nuart HART’S WAR | Directed by GREGORY HOBLIT | Written by BILLY RAY and TERRY GEORGE | Based on a novel by John Katzenbach | Produced by DAVID LADD, DAVID FOSTER, ARNOLD RIFKIN and HOBLIT | Released by Metro Goldwyn Mayer | Citywide
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