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MGM Studios DVD presents
Hart's War (2002)

"Might be a bit crowded around here this winter."
- Col. Werner Visser (Marcel Iures)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: July 08, 2002

Stars: Bruce Willis, Colin Farrell
Other Stars: Terrence Howard, Cole Hauser, Marcus Iures, Linus Roache, Vicellous Shannon
Director: Gregory Hoblit

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for some strong war violence and language
Run Time: 02h:04m:38s
Release Date: July 09, 2002
UPC: 027616877284
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BA-A- B-

DVD Review

Hart's War, based on the novel by John Katzenbach, is an unusual breed of war film, blending elements of mystery, suspense, racial tension, and courtroom drama into a remarkably coherent whole. Lt. Thomas Hart (Colin Ferrell), born into a privileged family, has spent most of WWII behind a desk when a routine diplomatic errand suddenly results in his capture by the Nazis. After brutal questioning and torture, he is taken to a POW camp overseen by Col. Visser (Iures), and placed under the command of Col. McNamara (Willis), a West Point Graduate eager to get out of the camp and back into battle.

Early on, it looks like it's going to be just another film about one man's coming-of-age, as the unscarred Hart, a ranking officer who has never seen combat, learns the true meaning of war from the lowly enlisted men. But things get more interesting when two black air force lieutenants are captured and placed with Hart. The white soldiers resent the intrusion and refuse to honor the newcomers as officers, placing a strain on Hart's command that is only worsened when one of the men, Archer (Shannon), is framed by fellow soldier Bedford (Hauser) and executed by the Germans, only to have Bedford turn up dead soon after.

Hart is put in charge of defending the other black officer, Lt. Scott (Howard), who is accused of Bedford's murder, with McNamara acting as court martial judge. Hart is wary of his commanding officer's impartiality, however, and soon begins to question the circumstances of the murder and discover that certain parties have much to gain from a prolonged trial.

Colin Ferrell is a rising star of late, and he gives a strong performance here, outclassing even Bruce Willis, who seems to be stuck in the same stoic, silent rut that he's been in since The Sixth Sense. Though the script bogs down in lots of moralizing and revisionism, Hart's journey, and his detective work as he searches for Scott's best defense, provide enough substance for this engrossing drama. Less laudable is the subtle racist bent, with the "honorable" black officers sitting by to be saved by the white rookie, developed with less depth and subtlety than the mustache-twirling, cigarette-smoking Nazi villain. The film tries to offer commentary on racism among the soldiers, but with such one-dimensional minority characters (who are happy to sit in the back of movie theaters and to be quiet and honorable and suffer in silence), it's difficult to treat the exigency with any seriousness.

Script problems aside, Hart's War is consistently entertaining, probably due to measured direction from Gregory Hoblit (Frequency) and beautiful cinematography from Alar Kivilo, who uses a muted color palette and deep blue filters to bring the icy interiors of the prison camp to life. Hart's War isn't a revolutionary war film, but it is assured and entertaining.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: The muted colors and icy filters of Hart's War's cinematography come through wonderfully on DVD. Blacks are also quite solid, while retaining excellent shadow detail. Detail is excellent overall; I noticed very little aliasing even in scenes with lots of complex scenery or several moving elements. Minor haloing is visible here and there, but is never overly intrusive, and artifacting isn't a problem. A pan & scan transfer, offered on the single-layered side of this DVD-14, offers comparable image quality (though with more grain, likely from the image magnification) and a great example of the potential horrors of picture loss with the P&S process.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French, Spanish, Portugueseno
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The DD 5.1 track offered is excellent, giving equal due to both the intense battle scenes and the subtler dramatic moments. During the action sequences, including a dogfight and plane crash, the surrounds provide ample support and spatial imaging, expanding the soundfield naturally and with plenty of LFE. Meanwhile, dialogue is firmly anchored in the center channel and always clear and natural. During the quieter moments, the score utilizes the mains quite nicely, and also creeps into the surrounds a bit.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring TV trailers for Stargate SG-1 and Jeremiah, Windtalkers
10 Deleted Scenes
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Gregory Hoblit, writer Billy Ray, and actor Bruce Willis; producer David Foster
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: Hart's War was a massive bomb at the box-office this past winter, recouping less than $10 million of its $80 million production cost, but MGM hasn't skimped on the DVD extras (don't let the lack of a special edition banner fool you).

The first of two commentaries features director Gregory Hoblit, writer Billy Ray, and actor Bruce Willis, and engages in a little deceptive editing. It's obvious that Hoblit and Ray were recorded together; they have a good rapport, chatting throughout about the development of the script, what scenes were changed throughout, and how the film was molded during production. It's a fairly informative track, though a bit dry. Willis was obviously recorded separately (in fact, his comments are rarely screen specific and might simply have been pulled from PR interviews), but a sneaky editor has tried to craft a cohesive conversation between all three. The illusion is far from convincing. Short snippets from Willis (comments like "yes, absolutely" and "right" are inserted quite abruptly between comments from the other two commentary participants. I can't decide if it's despicable, sad, amusing, or some perverse combination of all three; anyway, don't get your hopes up for some good comments from the big Hollywood star.

The second track, from producer David Foster, is a bit trying. Foster has a deep languorous voice, and his halting speech pattern tends to stretch his comments out into muddled fragments. He offers some interesting tidbits on the film's development, and provides a few personal anecdotes on the production process, but finding these small nuggets is a minor chore.

Ten deleted scenes are included, with a total running time of about 15 minutes and optional commentary from Hoblit and Ray. As is usually the case with deleted and alternate scenes, most of this material is extraneous to the main narrative, offering interesting character moments that simply didn't fit in the finished product. The alternate cut of Archer's death scene is interesting; the rest are probably worth a look too.

A photo gallery offers production and promotional shots, as well as amusing shots from the photo shoot for the theatrical poster ("OK, Bruce... look stern! Sterner! Oh, oh, too stern!"). Also included is the trailer, a TV spot for the MGM produced series Stargate SG-1 and Jeremiah, and fellow war film, Windtalkers.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Hart's War is a solid, absorbing film, equal parts wartime epic, courtroom drama, and potboiler mystery. It's no masterpiece (the commentary on racism feels particularly forced), but it at least strives to tackle weighty issues. MGM's DVD is quite nice, despite the lack of a special edition moniker, and is an easy recommendation for fans of the film.


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