The first thing you notice about "Hart's War" is that Bruce Willis isn't Hart, though you'd think so from the ads and trailers for the World War II film. The second thing is that after twenty years of a seriously receding hairline Willis, who plays captured U.S. Col. William McNamara in a German prisoner-of-war camp, now has a full toupée poking out from under his overseas cap. The third thing is that young Colin Farrell, who plays the captured Lt. Hart of the title, has been given a role so sweetly innocent, so unaware of anything going on either in a world at war or even in a racist United States, that you wonder how he survived into adulthood.
But then this is a picture for the junior high school crowd, and if you accept it on that level it won't disappoint you. The time is December 1944, the moment when the German counterattack at the Battle of the Bulge collapsed the Allied lines. Hart, the son of a U.S. Senator, assigned to a staff position behind the lines but wishing to see combat, is captured and interrogated. After three horrendous days he gives the Nazis the information they want and is taken to a POW camp, where the American prisoners are under the command of Col. McNamara. Oddly, McNamara refuses to billet him with the other officers and assigns him to a barrack with the enlisted men. Pretty soon two black fighter pilots, also officers, are put in as well, which incites a bigoted white sergeant to some evil acts.
One thing leads to another, the bigot is murdered, and black Lt. Lincoln Scott (Terrence Howard) is on trial for murder. Hart, who finished two years at Yale Law School, is assigned to defend him. Meanwhile the camp commandant, Col. Werner Visser (Marcel Iures), who it turns out was in the Yale class of '28, go figure, plays his own game with both McNamara and Hart. Poor Hart must suffer lectures on everything from racism to military logic from almost everyone he meets in the film, before he gets to stand up on his own two feet at about the two-hour mark, but stand up he does and everyone gets his just desserts.
The film has been beautifully shot by cinematographer Alar Kivilo, who captures the winter light and monochrome buildings of the camp at the film's Prague location. He can make even the orange glow of a candle stand out like a beacon. But there are too many subplots to contend with, too much pulling at cross-purposes, to give the film any real resonance. It is all reasonably compelling while we watch, but "Hart's War" evaporates instantly upon leaving the theatre.