ⓘ Hart's War


ⓘ Harts War

Harts War is a 2002 American thriller drama film about a World War II prisoner of war camp based on the novel by John Katzenbach. It stars Bruce Willis as Col. William McNamara and Colin Farrell as Lt. Thomas Hart. The film co-stars Terrence Howard, Cole Hauser and Marcel Iures. The film, directed by Gregory Hoblit, was shot at Barrandov Studios in Prague, and released on February 15, 2002. The film earned mixed reviews and did poorly at the box office.


1. Plot

During the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, U.S. Army intelligence officer First Lieutenant Thomas Hart Farrell is captured by German forces. While interrogating Hart, the Germans coerce him to divulge intelligence by taking away his boots, causing his feet to become frostbitten and badly injured, and leaving him, naked, in a very cold cell. He is then transferred by train to Stalag VI-A prisoner of war camp at Hemer, Germany. While en route, a P-51 Mustang attacks the letters POW were painted on the top of the train, but got covered by thick snow. To save themselves, the POWs leave the train and spell P-O-W with their bodies and prevent further strafing.

After arriving at the new POW camp, Lt. Hart is interviewed by the ranking American officer, Colonel William McNamara Willis. When McNamara asks if he cooperated with the Germans after he was captured, Hart denies it. McNamara knows this to be a lie when Hart says he only endured three days of interrogation. McNamara does not reveal this to Hart, but sends him to bunk in a barracks for enlisted men, rather than allow him to bunk with the other officers.

Two Black pilots are brought to the camp and assigned to Harts barracks. They are the only African Americans in the camp, and their situation is compounded by their status as officers. Staff Sgt. Vic W. Bedford Hauser, a racist, is their primary antagonist. One of the pilots, Lt. Lamar Archer, is executed when accused of keeping a weapon that Bedford had planted in his bunk. When Bedford himself subsequently turns up dead, the surviving pilot, Lt. Lincoln A. Scott Howard is accused of killing Bedford in retaliation. A law student before the war, Hart is appointed by McNamara to defend the accused pilot at his court-martial, a trial to which the camp commandant, Oberst Werner Visser Iures agrees.

Much later, McNamara reveals to Hart that the "defense," like the trial itself, is a sham, an elaborate distraction to hide a planned attack on a nearby ammunition plant which the U.S. Army mistakenly believes to be a shoe factory by McNamara and his men, in aid of the war effort. It is revealed that Bedford planted the weapon in Archers bunk, knowing the guards would kill Archer for it. In return, Bedford informed the guards of the location of a secret radio. It is also revealed Bedford planned to escape with money and clothes, likely in return for telling the Nazis about McNamaras plan. Upon realizing Bedfords plot, McNamara killed Bedford to prevent it. Hart is shocked that McNamara as a senior officer would sacrifice a fellow American Scott to protect the planned attack on the ammunition plant. McNamara reminds Hart that in war, sometimes one man must be sacrificed to save the lives of many. Hart acknowledges this, but retorts that it is McNamaras duty to ensure that he McNamara, not Lincoln Scott, is the sacrifice. Disgusted, McNamara says that Hart does not know anything about duty, in reference to how Hart gave in to a "Level 1" interrogator after three days, whereas McNamara was tortured for a month.

McNamaras ploy nearly succeeds. The escaped soldiers destroy the nearby munitions plant. However, at the end of the court-martial, Hart falsely confesses to Bedfords murder in order to save Lt. Scott. McNamara overhears Harts confession; McNamara has a change of heart and voluntarily returns to the camp to accept responsibility. Oberst Visser holds McNamara accountable and personally executes him on the spot, but spares the remaining prisoners. Three months later, the German army surrenders to the Allies. The prison camp is liberated and all of the surviving prisoners, including Hart, are sent home. Harts final comments are that he learned about honor, duty, and sacrifice.


2. Cast

  • Cole Hauser as Staff Sgt Vic Bedford
  • Linus Roache as Captain Peter Ross
  • Rory Cochrane as Sergeant Carl Webb
  • Sam Jaeger as Captain R. G. Sisk
  • Rick Ravanello as Major Joe Clary
  • Jonathan Brandis as Private Lewis P. Wakely
  • Colin Farrell as Lt. Thomas Hart
  • Marcel Iures as Oberst Werner Visser
  • Vicellous Reon Shannon as Lt. Lamar Archer
  • Sam Worthington as Corporal B.J. Depot Guidry
  • Holger Handtke as Major Johann Wirtz
  • Adrian Grenier as Private Daniel E. Abrams
  • Maury Sterling as Private First Class Dennis A. Gerber
  • Sebastian Tillinger as Private Bert D. "Moose" Codman
  • Terrence Howard as Lt. Lincoln Scott
  • Scott Michael Campbell as Corporal Joe Cromin
  • Bruce Willis as Col. William McNamara

3. Reception

Harts War received mixed reviews. The film holds a 59% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 123 reviews, with an average rating of 5.9/10. The websites critical consensus reads: "Well-made and solidly acted, Harts War is modestly compelling. However, the movie suffers from having too many subplots". Metacritic rated it 49/100 based on 32 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.

Harts War was a box office bomb. Produced on a budget of $70 million, the film grossed $33.1 million worldwide.

Jonathan Brandis, who hanged himself in November 2003, had previously said that he was depressed about his waning career, which had continued to decline in the final years of his life. He was also reportedly disappointed when his appearance in Harts War, a role he had hoped would revive his career, was significantly reduced in the films final cut.

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