Hart's War

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Hart's War
Harts war.jpg
Hart's War Promotional Movie Poster
Directed by Gregory Hoblit
Produced by Wolfgang Glattes
Gregory Hoblit
David Ladd
Arnold Rifkin
Screenplay by Billy Ray
Terry George
Based on John Katzenbach
Starring Bruce Willis
Colin Farrell
Terrence Howard
Cole Hauser
Marcel Iureş
Music by Rachel Portman
Cinematography Alar Kivilo
Edited by David Rosenbloom
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
20th Century Fox (International)
Release dates
February 15, 2002
Running time
125 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $70 million
Box office $33,076,815[1]

Hart's War is a 2002 American thriller drama film about a World War II prisoner of war (POW) 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 Iureş. The film, directed by Gregory Hoblit, was shot at Barrandov Studios in Prague, and released on 15 February 2002. The film earned mixed reviews and was a box office failure.


Belgium, December 16, 1944: First Lieutenant Thomas Hart (Farrell) is stationed at VIII Corps Headquarters and a stranger to war. He volunteers to give a captain a lift to his unit on the front. While driving they are stopped by Military Policemen who inform them they are going the wrong way. Hart checks his map but the captain, who is suspicious of the MPs, tries to reach for his pistol but is immediately shot in the head by one of the MPs, who turn out to be Germans in disguise. Hart is pistol whipped by the Germans, who then rummage through his jeep. When they are distracted, Hart slams on the gas and drives away as hidden German commandos shoot at him. He then goes down a ravine, hits a ditch and is thrown through the windshield. When he gathers his senses, he realizes he is lying in a mass grave of U.S. soldiers. It is the opening of the Battle of the Bulge.

Taken to a local prison, his boots are confiscated and he is left naked in a cell. Threatened with frostbite and pneumonia, Hart is coerced by his German interrogator into divulging intelligence.

He and many other Americans are later transferred by train to a German prisoner of war camp. While en route, a fleet of P-51 Mustangs attacks the station. Since the painted letters POW on the top of the train are covered by thick snow, the Mustangs strafe the train, killing several POWs. To save themselves, the POWs leave the train, spell POW with their bodies, and circumvent further strafing. The Germans regardless restore order and recapture the prisoners.

After arriving at Stalag VI A in Augsburg, Germany, Hart is debriefed by the ranking American officer, Colonel William McNamara (Willis). When McNamara asks if Hart cooperated with the Germans after he was captured, Hart denies it. McNamara knows this to be a lie, since he knows Hart was held for three days after seeing only a Level 1 interrogator. He does not reveal this to Hart and sends him to bunk in a barracks for enlisted men, rather than allowing him to bunk with the other officers.

Two Tuskegee Airmen are brought to the camp, Second Lieutenants Lincoln A. Scott (Terrence Howard) and Lamar T. Archer (Vicellous Reon Shannon). They are the only blacks in the camp, and their situation is compounded by their status as officers. Staff Sergeant Vic W. Bedford (Cole Hauser), a vicious racist, is their primary antagonist.

Later, a tent spike, which could be used as a weapon, is found in Archer's bunk. The Germans drag him out and shoot him, claiming that he was trying to escape. Directly after that, a radio used by the Americans to receive coded messages via the BBC is found and destroyed.

Bedford is himself later found dead. Scott is seen standing over the body and is accused of killing him in revenge for Bedford's framing Archer. A law student at Yale 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 (Marcel Iureş), agrees.

Visser gives Hart a manual on US Army court-martial proceedings, furthering the conflict between him and McNamara when he uses the rule book to question the Colonel's conducting of the trial. On the witness stand, the angered Scott gives an emotional address on the treatment of blacks like himself, who joined up to serve their country with honor but are treated with disrespect in return.

Late one night, Hart notices a fellow POW acting suspiciously and follows him to a room behind the theater where the trial is taking place. There, he discovers a tunnel being dug. McNamara reveals to Hart that the "defense", like the trial itself, is a sham, an elaborate distraction to hide a planned escape and attack on a nearby ammunition plant which the Allies mistakenly believe to be a shoe factory. It is revealed that Bedford planted the spike in Archer's bunk, and, in return for the guards' executing Archer for it, Bedford gave them the location of the secret radio. It is also revealed that Bedford planned to escape with forged German documents, money and clothes, likely in return for telling the Germans about McNamara's plan. McNamara realized this and killed Bedford to prevent it.

Hart is shocked that McNamara, as a senior officer, would sacrifice fellow Americans to perpetuate this. McNamara reminds Hart that they are at war, and in war sometimes one man must be sacrificed to save the lives of many. Hart acknowledges this, but retorts that it is McNamara's duty to ensure that he, not Scott, is the sacrifice. Disgusted, McNamara says that Hart knows nothing about duty, a reference to how Hart gave in to a Level 1 interrogator after three days, whereas McNamara was tortured for a month.

On the last day of the trial, McNamara and 34 others feign food poisoning in order to be excused from the closing arguments. Hart takes Lt. Scott outside to privately tell him that the trial had been a sham. Scott was angry. But when Hart insisted that Scott escape with the 35 men, Scott selflessly offered to stay behind, realizing that the men would have a better chance of escape--even though he knew it meant he would be executed. Hart was profoundly affected by Scott's bravery and honor. The 35 men then slip down the escape tunnel. As he is about to go down, McNamara overhears Hart's closing speech. In order to save Scott, Hart announces that he killed Bedford.

Visser orders everyone out and announces that Hart will be shot there and then. After a headcount, which is short by 35 prisoners, Visser suspects an escape plot and locates the tunnel. Now fully aware of the deception, he furiously orders everybody at the trial to be shot as well. But before the sentence is carried out, McNamara, moved by Hart's selfless sacrifice, voluntarily returns to the camp to accept responsibility. At that moment, the factory blows up and the other escapees scatter away.

Visser holds McNamara accountable and personally executes him on the spot, sparing the remaining prisoners. Hart leads the salute to McNamara's dead body. Three months later, the German army surrenders to the Allies and the prison camp is liberated.



The film received mixed to positive reviews from critics. It currently holds a 60% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus being "Well-made and solidly acted, Hart's War is modestly compelling. However, the movie suffers from having too many subplots".

Hart's War was a box office bomb. Produced on a budget of $70 million, and marketed for $20 million (for a total of $90 million), the film made only $33 million worldwide.


  1. ^ Hart's War - Box Office Data. The Numbers. Retrieved 29 September 2013

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