"Going by the Book"
HART’S WAR, starring Bruce Willis, tells a redemptive story of honor, duty, courage, and sacrifice, set within an American POW camp in Adolph Hitler’s Germany during World War II. A Christian worldview reverberates deeply in this movie’s dramatic conclusion, despite some possible politically correct, revisionist history and strong foul language.
HART’S WAR, starring Bruce Willis, may be the first truly excellent American movie of 2002. It also is one of the most Christian movies of the year so far, in a year that has proven to be one of the more Christian-oriented in recent memory. The movie extols duty, honor, courage, goodwill toward one’s fellow man, and, above all, sacrifice and laying down one’s life for others, including one’s country and one’s fellow countrymen. A book containing the Book of Psalms and the New Testament plays an important symbolic role in two scenes late in the movie. This Christian symbolism ultimately seems to lead to a Christian worldview because it reverberates deeply in the powerful, dramatic, riveting conclusion to the movie, despite some possible politically correct, revisionist history and strong foul language.
HART’S WAR opens in December 1945 during Nazi Germany’s final attempt to turn the tides of World War II. Colin Farrell, who gave such a powerful performance in the little-scene TIGERLAND in 2000, plays Lt. Hart, an officer who is kept safely away from the front lines, among the higher echelons at Allied Headquarters in France, because his father is a United States Senator. Lt. Hart offers to drive another soldier to General Patton, several miles away, but National Socialist (Nazi) German soldiers capture Hart while shooting the soldier in the head.
A German officer interrogates Hart and deprives him of proper medical attention for a few days. Hart is nearly killed during an American attack on a German train station. Then, the Germans transfer him to a POW camp near Augsburg, Germany, along with about a thousand other American soldiers.
At the camp, Hart meets the leader of the Americans, Col. McNamara, a gruff West Point officer coming from a long line of West Pointers, played by Bruce Willis. McNamara does not believe Hart tells him the truth about Hart’s interrogation, so he puts Hart among the enlisted men. Soon thereafter, McNamara also places two black pilots under Hart’s command in that bunker. The pilots were trained at the famous Tuskegee training facility, which was a significant breakthrough for African Americans in the Armed Forces.
The German guards execute one of the men, Captain Archer, under mysterious circumstances. One night, they find the racist sergeant under Hart’s command murdered, with the other black pilot, Lt. Lincoln Scott (played wonderfully by Terrence Howard), standing over his body. Scott, who seems like a pretty heroic, honorable guy, denies he’s guilty. Col. McNamara orders Lt. Hart to be Scott’s defense attorney, but McNamara’s motives are not clear. Hart, moreover, is suspicious that there’s more going on in the camp than even he suspects. Scott’s life is the one on the line, however, because the penalty in this strange wartime court-martial is death.
Several things save HART’S WAR from becoming your average, cliché World War II POW drama, with a politically correct subplot about white racism thrown into the mix.
First, there are its earnest, convincing performances, not only by newcomer Colin Farrell and Bruce Willis, but also from Terrence Howard as Lt. Scott and Marcel Iures as the archetypal German commandant, Col. Werner Visser. Farrell is excellent as the young Lt. Hart, and Willis gives another of his fine portrayals as a stoic American hero, though this time he’s an older officer who has secret motives and, thus, has to keep his true feelings close to his vest.
The movie’s politically correct subplot about racism is, in one sense, revisionist history. In reality, according to a Feb. 15, 2002 article on the movie in the Los Angeles Times, HART’S WAR is based on a fictionalized novel by John Katzenbach, the son of Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach in President Lyndon Johnson’s administration in the late 1960s. Attorney General Katzenbach was a POW during World War II. His son John was obviously affected by his father’s role in the Johnson administration’s Civil Rights policies against racism. In his novel, John combined those political feelings against racism with his father’s own real-life experiences as an American POW in Germany. According to his father, Nicholas, in the Times article, some black aviators were shot down and did join the camp where Nicholas was imprisoned. The 80-year-old Nicholas says, however, that the POW commanding officer hailed from South Carolina “and he was absolutely determined there would be no racial discrimination that the Germans could use for propaganda. He assigned the first black officer with nine men from below the Mason-Dixon Line (the line that separates the Northern states from the Southern states in the U.S.A.) and said, ‘If there are any problems, there will be a court-martial when we get back.’” Apparently, therefore, his son John’s novel revises history (at least a little bit) to come up with a politically correct message about America.
Not having thoroughly examined John Katzenbach’s novel, it’s hard to say how politically correct it really is. Based on the LA Times article, however, it appears that the movie HART’S WAR has diluted the book’s message on racism. Apparently, unlike the movie, Lt. Hart’s character in the book is himself an aviator who is shot down by the National Socialist Germans. Furthermore, John says that he wanted to convey in his book that Hart’s “real war was against racism.”
The movie HART’S WAR doesn’t stress this idea so much, however. At the end of the movie, in fact, a voiceover from Hart’s character talks about courage, honor and sacrifice. It doesn’t talk about the fight against racism, including the racist policies of Adolph Hitler’s National Socialist Germany. Furthermore, although other parts in the movie do indeed show opposition to racism and the racist policies of Nazi Germany, they are not overly preachy and self-righteous as, for example, the bigotry in 1999’s THE CONTENDER.
Thus, although it is clear that the Nazi Commandant, Col. Visser, is a nasty, evil guy, the script and actor Marcel Iures, who plays Visser, humanize his character. Visser notes the hypocrisy on racism in America, and, in fact, he secretly enjoys jazz music, an art form almost single-handedly created (though definitely not completely created) by black Americans and their interaction with America and its English, Irish, Scottish, European, Jewish, and, last but not least, Christian, roots. In an understated, though perhaps sometimes cliché, way, Marcel beautifully interacts with the other actors, especially Bruce Willis and Colin Farrell.
Terrence Howard also is not preachy in his portrayal of the black aviator, Lt. Scott, even though, as Scott, he gets to emote a little bit about Scott’s experience as a black man in America and in the American Armed Forces during World War II. Howard gives a fine performance. It is great to see this excellent, talented, upcoming actor in a movie that isn’t a lewd romantic comedy about black Americans.
Another thing that saves HART’S WAR from becoming just another WW II POW movie, or just another American movie with a leftist, PC message, is the wonderful direction by Gregory Hoblit. Although the court trial slows down the movie a bit too much and HART’S WAR could use more action scenes toward the end, Hoblit deftly handles the acting, characters and drama of the situation. He also gets lots of help from his cinematographer and his production design staff, Alar Kivilo, Lilly Kilvert, Martin Kurel, and Patrick Cassidy. For example, the scenes where Hart and the other new POWs come under fire at the train station and arrive at Visser’s camp are tremendous. They put the audience right back into the World War II setting!
As noted above, HART’S WAR focuses on moral, patriotic themes of honor, duty, courage, goodwill toward one’s fellow man, and, above all, sacrifice and laying down one’s life for others, including one’s country and fellow countrymen. These themes would be merely morally uplifting and redemptive were it not for the fact that, before his sentencing, a major character gives Lt. Scott a little book with copies of the Book of Psalms from the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament in it. Shortly thereafter, Scott learns that his possible upcoming execution will be a sacrificial one. Scott pulls a photo of he and his wife with their son from this biblical, Christian book and asks Lt. Hart to tell his surviving family about his sacrifice. The powerful ending of the movie, which features more sacrificial moments, takes place within this Christian context. Thus, HART’S WAR has a strong Christian worldview, with strong moral elements. This Christian worldview and these moral elements, handled so splendidly, give HART’S WAR a depth of meaning that transcends mere Hollywood popcorn cinema. It shows that, even within the Hollywood hype machine, there is plenty of room for exciting, spiritually uplifting, Christian moments that ennoble the human condition and delight Christians who love the possibilities of cinema as a divinely inspired art form.
Of course, the foul language, violence and mature themes of HART’S WAR are definitely not something for children under 6 or 7. Parents also should be very cautious about letting their children ages 7 to 13 see this movie. Even so, HART’S WAR is one of the least offensive R-rated movies in recent years. Therefore, because of its strong ending, acting and filmmaking (and despite its revisionist history), MOVIEGUIDE® highly recommends this movie for older audiences. If they allow their older children and teenagers to see HART’S WAR, parents should take the time to help their children and teenagers understand the truth about America’s involvement in World War II and its history regarding so-called racial conflicts. They should make sure that their children understand that God and Jesus Christ oppose all forms of racism and all forms of National Socialism. They also should make sure that their children know that God and Jesus Christ do not advocate anti-American hatred, anti-German hatred or socialist, politically correct government policies designed to combat racism – especially when those socialist policies try to enforce ethnic and racial harmony by using complicated, onerous laws or by attacking the English, Irish, Scottish, European, Jewish, and Christian heritage that has made the United States one of the best countries on the face of this earth.
(CCC, BBB, PPP, PC, RH, LLL, VV, N, A, D, M) Strong Christian worldview extols duty, honor, courage, goodwill toward one’s fellow man, and, above all, sacrifice & laying down one’s life for others, including one’s country and fellow countrymen (with important scenes involving a book that has a New Testament and the Book of Psalms in it, plus strong patriotic content); positive worldview overcomes some possible PC revisionist history about racism; about 24 obscenities including about nine “f” words, six strong profanities, several uses of the “N” word, & brief farting scene; solid wartime action violence including a couple men shot in head (one time with some blood), plane strafes train station (unknowingly killing some POWs), dogfight, implied murder, Germans hang Russian prisoners, brief images of corpses (nothing really gruesome, however), & explosions; no sex; partial male nudity in POW setting; alcohol use; plenty of smoking; and, lying, betrayal, treason, racism, National Socialist officers from Adolph Hitler’s Germany mistreat POWs, and soldiers frame another soldier, mostly rebuked.
HART’S WAR, starring Bruce Willis, opens in December 1944 during World War II. Newcomer Colin Farrell plays Lt. Hart, a privileged U.S. officer captured by Adolph Hitler’s National Socialist army. Willis is the officer commanding Hart’s POW camp in Germany, Col. McNamara, who thinks Hart lied about his interrogation by the Germany enemy. He appoints Hart the defense attorney of a black aviator who allegedly murdered a racist sergeant, but McNamara has some ulterior motives. The story comes to a powerful, riveting conclusion.
HART’S WAR may be the first truly excellent American movie of 2002. It is also one of the most Christian 2002 movies so far, in a year that has proven to be one of the more Christian-oriented in recent memory. This moral, well-done movie extols duty, honor, courage, goodwill toward one’s fellow man, and, above all, sacrifice and laying down one’s life for others, including one’s country. A book containing the Psalms and the New Testament plays an important symbolic role in two major scenes toward the end. This Christian worldview reverberates deeply in the dramatic conclusion, despite some possible politically correct, revisionist history and strong foul language.