OCTOBER 30, 2008
My streak of seeing all of the master’s (that’s Bruce, not director Gregory Hoblit) films in theaters was nearly broken by Hart’s War. It came out during a heavy post production time on my student film, and tanked so badly that two weeks later it was already reduced to dollar theaters. I had to drive about 30 miles to see the damn thing. Since then, I’ve always made sure to see all Willis films on their opening weekend, just in case one tanks as bad as this one did (to date, it’s actually his biggest bomb – it cost more than Hudson Hawk and actually made less).
And that is a shame, because it’s also his most underrated movie besides Unbreakable (which is beloved, but not by enough people! Armageddon is a lost cause, but I can’t see why Unbreakable gets the occasional trashing). It’s not the most original movie, but I kind of like how they combine so many subgenres into one movie. It’s a mano y mano movie, the old veteran vs. the new guy type thing! No, it’s a war/POW escape movie! No, it’s a courtroom drama! How about a look on race relations? I’m surprised they didn’t throw a slasher or maybe a ragtag sports team turning their dismal season around while they are at it.
But surprisingly, all of the elements come together pretty well. It never FEELS like an over-plotted movie, and on top of that, it’s got some top notch acting. Willis is sort of on autopilot, but he’s also really not the main star of the movie (despite his top billing, he’s actually off-screen for large chunks of it and the bulk of his scenes have him sitting in a courtroom doing nothing). Colin Farrell is good despite his variable accent, and this was also the first big role for Terrence Howard, who is always interesting and is terrific here. The guy playing the Nazi colonel is also pretty great, and he has an interesting character to play. I wouldn’t go so far as to call him “sympathetic”, but he’s certainly not the same sort of cartoon villain one might expect. The film’s best scene concerns him and Willis having a sort of passive aggressive chat over a few drinks (I like how Willis’ character barely seems to be imprisoned; seems like he could just leave if he wanted to).
And in the end, it’s all about being a good American and all that, which makes its failure even more surprising (it was released 6 months after 9/11). You’d think a pro-America; our enemies can’t break our spirit type movie would go over well. But that weekend everyone went to go see Crossroads instead. Good choice.
The DVD has two commentaries (...), and also about a dozen deleted scenes that you can watch with commentary by Hoblit, who doesn’t say much other than “Oh, I hated to cut this.” Since only one of them has Willis, they are obviously not missed, but it’s interesting to note that one has a speaking line from Jonathan Brandis, who is pretty much MIA from the finished film (if you look carefully you can see him hanging out in a few shots). Apparently, being all but completely cut from the film was one of the things that led to his suicide, so nice job, Hobby!
What say you?