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Film / Hart's War

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Hart's War is a 2002 World War II drama directed by Gregory Hoblit and starring Bruce Willis, Colin Farrell and Terrence Howard.

Lt. Hart (Farrell) is captured in the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge and sent to a POW Camp. An escape attempt is hatching, and a prisoner is murdered to cover it up, so it's up to Hart to conduct the court martial.

Provides examples of the following:

  • Adapted Out: Hart's assistants in the trial, U.K. Prisoners Pryce and Rennaddy (a former barrister and policeman respectively), Fritz Number One (a bumbling guard who delivered Bedford the weapon which was later used to murder him with), Hart's bomber crew, Fenelli (a prisoner with some experience as a medical examiner who finds useful evidence for Hart but later leis about it on the stand in exchange for a place in the tunnel), Bedford's friend Murphy and many others.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Bedford is still a racist bully and a spy in the book, but his Pet the Dog moment of tossing bread to the Russians is portrayed as being more sincere, and since Archer is a Canon Foreigner, Bedford never did anything like getting him murdered.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Hart is a staff officer captured by bad luck while driving near the front in the film, while in the book he is a combat officer, and the Sole Survivor of his bomber crew.
  • Affably Evil: Col. Visser. He repeatedly offers assistance to Hart during the preparations for the trial, shows genuine respect towards both Hart and his own American counterpart Colonel McNamara (to the point of giving the latter an honourable death) and, despite being a Nazi, freely admits that he enjoys a lot of "forbidden" things including African American jazz music.
  • Amoral Attorney: Cpt. Sisk qualifies as a lowkey example. In the end, his summation of the murder case paints Scott in the best possible light, but it's heavily implied that he is still intentionally lying.
  • Anti-Villain: Colonel Visser, Type I. He is genuinely Affably Evil, he doesn't share the fanatical hatred of other races characteristic of Nazis in film, he understands that War Is Hell and the price it can demand of those who fight in it and their families and even borders on being a Reasonable Authority Figure.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • The movie depicts Stalag VI-A as being located in the middle of a desolate valley near Augsburg, Germany. The real Stalag VI-A was located on a hillside overlooking the city of Hemer, halfway across the country, and interned mostly Russians or Poles, with a few Frenchmen and Britons, and no Americans.
    • In the opening scene, Hart stumbles across the aftermath of the Malmedy Massacre. Except the massacre occurred on December 17, 1944, one day after the scene takes place. Furthermore, it happened in a wide open field, not a forest as depicted in the film.
  • Artistic License – Military:
    • The camp officers all wear Wehrmacht uniforms, even though all German POW facilities were staffed by Luftwaffe personnel.
    • Col. McNamara would've had no control over which barracks men were assigned to, the Germans controlled this explicitly to prevent unit cohesion and possible escape or insurrection attempts.
    • Col. McNamara wears a subdued arm patch of the Big Red One (First Infantry Division). Subdued service patches were not used by the Army until the 1960's.
  • Asshole Victim: In the end, neither the audience nor anyone in the camp is at all sorry when Bedford turns up dead.
  • Badass Bookworm: Lt. Hart is a second-year law student who, at the time of his capture, never even saw any fighting. That doesn't mean he won't try everything he can think of to not see an innocent man executed even going so far as to falsely confess to the murder.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: A downplayed example. Even though Scott clearly isn't happy about Hart being his defence council while only having completed a year of law school, he very quickly grows to trust Hart enough to give him a picture of his family and ask him to tell them what happened when it looks like he's going to be executed. This is heavily implied to be because Hart was by far the nicest anyone was to Scott and Archer when they first arrived at the camp.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Again, Hart. It's implied that the only reason McNamara came back at the end was because of Hart's "The Reason You Suck" Speech to him.
  • Big Damn Heroes: After successfully escaping, Colonel McNamara returns to the camp just in time to stop the execution of dozens of men.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Hoo boy Bedford might be one of the biggest ones in movie history. He starts off at first as a model solider and a man’s man but when Lieutenants Scott and Archer arrive at the camp, that’s when his true colors as begin to come out as a vicious racist. As the trial goes on it’s revealed that he is a traitor and coward as he traded with the Germans every day, set Archer up to be executed, told them about the radio and was close to telling them about the tunnel so he could leave the camp.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Both Hart and Scott are still alive and (presumably) survive the rest of the war. However, McNamara is dead and Reasonable Authority Figure Col. Visser likely won't be too far behind.
  • Bystander Syndrome: It quickly becomes clear that very few people in the camp actively liked Bedford, but although it's left ambiguous how many in the camp knew about the planned escape, all of them were willing to stand back and watch Flt. Lt. Scott be executed even when it becomes increasingly clear that he's innocent.
  • Clear Their Name: The main plot centres around Hart attempting to prove that Scott is innocent of Bedford's murder to save him from execution.
  • Composite Character: Commandant Visser is a combination of hostile Gestapo officer Captain Visser and reasonable commandant Von Reiter from the book. Colonel McNamara's name and role as the senior prisoner are the same as in the book, although much of his personality (particularly towards Scott) belonged to his Adapted Out executive officer, Clark, and Bedford's killer was the unnamed leader of the prison marching band.
  • Convicted by Public Opinion: Both Scott and Hart think (not unreasonably) that this will prove to be the case.
    Hart: Scott thinks this is all just for show. He thinks you passed sentence the moment the body hit the ground. Is he right?
    McNamara: (Beat) Bedford's footlocker is in my barracks. I'll make sure you get it.
  • Death from Above: P-51 Mustangs attack the POW camp. Unfortunately, it's a case of Friendly Fire.
  • Death Glare: Hart, McNamara and Bedford all have this down to an art.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Casual racism abounds and even Hart is implied to originally assume Scott is guilty, suggesting they claim Bedford's death was the result of a fight. Scott also tells the court that German POWs in the town where he lives were put to work picking cotton but still occasionally allowed into the town to go to diners and watch movies - while he and other African Americans weren't even allowed that.
  • Determined Defeatist: Scott repeatedly asserts that he knows the trial will end in his execution, yet he co-operates fully with Hart and delivers an impassioned "The Reason You Suck" Speech to the entire camp, showing he's not going to let them forget exactly what they're doing.
  • Dirty Coward: Bedford, to an extent. He was a snitch and regularly made deals with the German officers in order to improve his situation, even if that meant selling out his fellow POWs. Hart also essentially calls McNamara this when he works out McNamara killed Bedford and is willing to let Scott die for the crime rather than admit it was him. However, this is ultimately averted.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Hart, a young and clearly inexperienced officer, attempts to hide his failure to keep quiet under torture from Col. McNamara and fails. McNamara then forces him to bunk with the enlisted men. Also, Flt. Lt. Archer is executed after the Germans are tipped off about the planted tent spike in his bunk.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Scott's attitude several times during the trial.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: Scott is set up to become this only to be saved by Hart falsely confessing to the murder. Then he's saved from becoming this thanks to McNamara.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: A couple of German soldiers dress as Military Police in the opening scene, set during the Battle of the Bulge. Truth in Television, as there was an entire unit of them dedicated to doing this during that battle.
  • Kangaroo Court: The trial is basically just a cover for an attempted escape and everyone has already made up their minds that Scott will be found guilty.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: Not the camp the itself but German POW camps in America which mentioned above it was very Truth in Television as German POWS received several privileges and experienced first class treatment compared to the second class treatment Black Men and Women who served America during the war at home and abroad.
  • Naïve Newcomer: Hart, both to the camp and to the realities of life as a POW.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Early in the film, Mancnamara tells Visser that Americans "don't make those distinctions" after Visser tells him a group of executed Russian escapees were "untermenschen"note . Needless to say, Visser takes great delight in forcing McNamara to put this to the test once African American fliers Archer and Scott arrive. McNamara fails miserably to keep the moral high ground.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: McNamara. He might not use racial epithets but when both Scott and Archer arrive to the camp, he places them in the enlisted men’s barracks instead of quartering them properly as officers, which gives the impression to the audience that McNamara is not as tolerant as he tries to make himself out to be.
    • Also several of the enlisted men protest about the officers being assigned to their barracks and show nothing but casual racism and disrespect to the two men despite the fact that they are OFFICERS and are their fellow comrades in battle.
    • A couple of the men’s testimonies against Scott is also riddled with racial bias with statements “I’m not colored. I can control myself when I get angry” and that Hart shouldn’t be worried about a “flying bellhop”. Some really great soldiers and upstanding fellow Americans in this camp.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The Nazis are kind of a given, although Colonel Visser seems far more open-minded than most of them. Sergeant Bedford's racism is far more pronounced, however, and what kicks off the plot of the story.
    • With that being said though, Bedford’s hostile racism makes the Nazis look like peace workers and that’s REALLY saying something given that the “niggers” he hates are on the same side as he but he can’t let go of his stupid prejudices.
  • POW Camp: Interestingly, the adjacent camp holding Russian soldiers seems to be a concentration camp, with the soldiers not being fed and forced to work in a munitions factory (disguised as a shoe factory).
  • Pull the Thread: Hart manages to successfully do this to several of the elements which incriminate Scott, eventually reaching the conclusion that Bedford was trading POW secrets with the German guards in exchange for goods, as well as working out the real killer.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: As detailed above, Col. Visser is shown to be one, only losing his temper when people take advantage of it.
    • Col. McNamara originally looks to be this, but ultimately subverts this trope since he is not above doling out petty retributions for minor offences and threatening and ultimately killing any of those under his command who do not do things his way.
    • Cpt. Ross to a lesser extent. He takes care of those on the POW train as they suffer an attack by friendly fire and, despite his ultimate loyalty to McNamara, is willing to repeatedly offer Hart assistance and advice.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Hart delivers a minor one to McNamara and Scott delivers one to the entire camp (which contains an element of Shaming the Mob).
    Scott: You know how hard they tried to wash us out of flight school? The coloured fliers. It was test after test, anything they could think of to turn us into the cooks or the drivers or the shit shovelers. But I refused to wash out and so did Archer. I mean, come hell or high water, we hit the books because we were determined not to just spend the war being some niggers. ... Now I've been sitting down ever since I got here. And you know I should have stood up and said something the moment that you threw us in with the enlisted men instead of quartering us properly as officers. But it's okay. You see, coloured men expect to have to jump through hoops in this man's army. Archer knew that. We all did. ... But we just kept telling ourselves that no matter what, as long as we did our jobs it would all be worth it because the war would end and we could go home and we would be free to walk down any street in America with our heads held high as men. So that's what we did, we did our jobs. We served our country, sir. Archer and I. And what you let happen to him, what you allowed to happen to him, was appalling. And so is this.
  • Rewatch Bonus: When a German fighter crashes in the camp after being shot down, it damages one of the buildings. McNamara reacts oddly to this event, and later on Hart observes him sneaking into the damaged building and examining the floor and ceiling. No explanation for this is given at the time, but once it's revealed that this is where the prisoners were digging a secret escape tunnel, the significance becomes clear.