Rated R - Running Time: 2:05 - Released 2/15/02

What would you get if you made Hogan's Heroes into a dramatic feature film? You might get something like Hart's War, a thoughtful study into the goings on in an American POW camp during World War II. However, while Gregory Hoblit's film doesn't paint the U.S. military prisoner's experience as quite the yuk-fest it was in the TV show, it does sanitize the violence considerably and portray the German captors as being quite sympathetic, even friendly, toward their American detainees. This is because the film's story, penned by Billy Ray and Terry George, based on the novel by John Katzenbach, is concerned more with the issue of racism among the U.S. prisoners than the treatment they endured from their captors. While the subject of cruelty or torture in Nazi prison camps may be a side issue to this film's main plot, there may be some former POWs out there who will take exception to its sympathetic portrayal of the "enemy."

That said, the story is suitably gritty and intense, with director Hoblit (Frequency) achieving at least the authenticity, if not the integrity, of a Schindler's List with his Czech-produced film. It also allows Bruce Willis another chance to play a tough-as-nails antihero, something he does with identical effectiveness, not to mention identical characterization, in each such role he is given (Die Hard, Armageddon, The Siege, etc.). These are the roles he plays in between the more interesting ones (12 Monkeys, The Sixth Sense, Bandits). Meanwhile, Colin Farrell does admirably the job of playing the title role when the title role is not the star of the picture. He's there mainly to act as a foil to Willis's overblown heroics.

The story begins with Lieutenant Thomas W. Hart (Farrell), a senator's son with a cushy assignment far from the fighting at V Corps H.Q. in Belgium. When Hart is sent to drive another officer through hostile territory, their jeep is attacked and the other man killed. Next thing he knows, he's being transported to a POW camp in Augsburg, Germany, where he meets hardened veteran Col. William A. McNamara (Willis) and his men. Just as Hart is beginning to cozy up to his newfound roomies, some new prisoners arrive, among them two Negro officers from the all-black Tuskeegee flying brigade, Lt. Lamar Archer (Vicellous Reon Shannon) and Lt. Lincoln Scott (Terrence Dashon Howard).

Though the African Americans outrank most of the other men, they are treated with disrespect by everyone except Hart. Soon Lt. Archer is set up by particularly nasty racist Staff Sgt. Vic Bedford (Cole Hauser, Farrell's partner in crime [and I mean that] from American Outlaws). Hiding a weapon beneath Archer's bunk, Bedford frames him for an offense which results in his execution. Lt. Scott vows revenge, and the next thing you know, Bedford is dead, with Scott cast as the prime suspect—even though he says he didn't do it. Now Hart, who has only had 2 years of Yale law school, is assigned by Col. McNamara to defend Scott in a military court-martial, held right there in the prison with the German guards and commandant (Marcel Iures) attending. Though McNamara is presiding over the trial, he seems blatantly biased against the black lieutenant, but we soon learn that the whole trial is not as is appears.

Willis, Farrell, and Howard are all perfectly fine in this movie, but it is Iures's performance as Col. Werner Visser, this prison's Klink, that intrigues me the most. At once charming, educated, and aware of the obvious discrepancies of the situation, Iures seems to be more good guy than the good guys. Is this intentional on director Hoblit's part? Ich weiß das nicht. ****

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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