POW-camp thriller provides a not-so-great escape.

Hart of Glass 

POW-camp thriller provides a not-so-great escape.

Set in a POW camp during the final months of World War II, Hart's War owes much of its existence to far superior films, chief among them La Grande Illusion, Stalag 17 and The Great Escape. The enormous shadow those three films cast hovers over Hart's War like the blanket of gray clouds and muddy snow that envelops its camp grounds. Everything about director Gregory Hoblit's picture feels borrowed and haggard, and it plays like its inmates look -- exhausted, fetid. But it's not content just to exist as a POW-camp drama; it's also a courtroom thriller, a John Grisham adaptation set behind enemy lines.

Commanding the troops in confinement is Colonel William McNamara (Bruce Willis), a fourth-generation West Point graduate itching to get back to battle. Willis plays McNamara as he does all his "serious" roles -- with the silent scowl, his face twisted into a knot that suggests discomfort, not authority. McNamara is the antithesis of his German counterpart, Colonel Werner Visser (Marcel Iures), a soldier educated in the States who loves "Negro jazz." Visser is perhaps the most enlightened man in the camp; he chides the white American soldiers for their racism, who insist they respect all men, regardless of race or rank, only to treat two black officers as less than human.

For a little while, at least, McNamara has no use for Lieutenant Tom Hart (Colin Farrell), a coddled, Yale-educated senator's son captured while driving an officer to the front lines. McNamara thinks Hart is a weak and untrustworthy spoiled brat and suspects that he gave up the location of Allied fuel depots to keep from being tortured.

McNamara banishes Hart to the enlisted mens' barracks, where he's tolerated by the violently racist Sergeant Vic Bedford (Cole Hauser) and Sergeant Carl Webb (Rory Cochrane, Hauser's Dazed and Confused castmate). McNamara then bunks two black pilots (Terrence Howard and Vicellous Shannon) with Hart and his men to toy with Hart, who is forced to protect the Tuskegee Airmen against the racist soldiers now under his command. Before long, two soldiers are killed, and Hart must defend an accused murderer at the court martial McNamara insists upon.

Hart finds himself a pawn of both commanding officers: He's loyal to McNamara, an American soldier, but has more in common with Visser, also a Yalie with refined tastes. But Hoblit's attempt at class commentary is clumsy and jumbled. Worse, the film degenerates into a benign whodunit bereft of suspense; even the film's trailer has little interest in hiding its true intention. Ultimately, Hart's War can't decide what it is: a treatise on racism, an escape (and escapist) thriller or a murder mystery. So it sits there, waiting for something to happen, and we sit there with it, waiting and waiting. And waiting.

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