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02/22/2002 - HART'S WAR

HART'S WAR by Tom McCurrie

In these days of "high-concept" screenwriting, characterization usually
gets a shorter than short shrift. After all, the thinking goes, if you
have a strong premise, who needs characters?

Let's take a look at HART'S WAR to see if this is true. This script
certainly has a strong enough premise -- a green lieutenant defends a
black soldier accused of murder in a Nazi-run POW camp. Or in Hollywood
pitch-speak, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN meets THE PRACTICE. Home run, right?

No, for without complex and engaging characters, a script is seriously
weakened. And with one important exception, the characters in HART'S WAR
are one-dimensional at best.

For instance, the American GIs in this story can be divided into two
categories: if they're white, their racists; if they're black, they're
victims of racists.

The American officers don't come off much better. Colin Farrell's Tom
Hart is supposed to be a callow lieutenant who learns about honor while
defending a man accused of murder. But because his callowness is barely
sketched in the beginning, Hart's arc from self-centered to
self-sacrificing fails to convince. Bruce Willis' Colonel McNamara on the
other hand is simply opaque. We find out later he kept his true feelings
hidden for a reason (a reason I won't state here for fear of giving away a
late-in-the-game-twist), but this doesn't make him any more compelling.

Now for the exception. He's Stalag Commandant Colonel Werner Visser,
flawlessly played by Romanian actor Marcel Iures (THE PEACEMAKER). This
character is a fascinating creation. Capable of both cruelty and
kindness, often simultaneously, Visser is a man who loves Jazz yet
believes in the inferiority of the "lesser races" who created it. While
he treats Hart like the son he lost on the Russian Front, even giving him
a U.S. Army Courts-Martial manual to help him defend his client, he also
shows no compunction in coldly executing prisoners at the drop of a
Wehrmacht hat.

Visser ends up blowing the American characters off the screen, not because
of his odious political beliefs, but because in all his complexity and
contradictions, he's the closest thing to a real human being in the movie.
Seeing a multi-faceted villain like this in a major studio release is
very uncommon these days, and is alone worth the price of admission.

A graduate of USC's School of Cinema-Television, Tom McCurrie has worked
as a development executive and a story analyst. He is currently a
screenwriter living in Los Angeles.

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