December 1944. Posted miles from the front, senator's son Lieutenant Thomas Hart (Tigerland's Colin Farrell) nonetheless has the misfortune to be captured by the Germans and end up in (fictional) prisoner of war camp Stalag VI.
Once there, he's consigned to the enlisted men's barracks by Colonel William McNamara (Bruce Willis), the highest ranking American in camp. It's an affront that's also afforded to African-American lieutenants Scott (Terrence Howard) and Archer (Vicellous Shannon). Very real injury is added to their particular insult when Archer is framed for a crime and summarily executed by the ever-even-minded Nazis.
Everyone knows that racist sergeant Vic Bedford (Cole Hauser) set Archer up, and it's no surprise when he's then killed and Scott is found standing over the corpse. But there are surprises to be had at the resulting trial (which the urbane camp commandant allows as a sop to the prisoners). Hart is appointed defence attorney by McNamara, but begins to suspect the whole thing's a cover up...
Known for the thrills, spills and kills of Primal Fear, Fallen and Frequency, director Gregory Hoblit is here content to turn back the speed dial along with the clock. Hart's War is a World War Two drama that isn't afraid to take its time (too much, in fact) - careful plotting, dialogue-heavy `action' and somewhat laboured characterisation are preferred to big bangs and fireballs.
In some respects, the old-fashioned approach works: Farrell wins sympathy through his sombre, thoughtful deliberations, a generously underplaying Willis brings gravitas, and Marcel Lures' commandant, Colonel Visser, is a surprisingly rounded creation.
Yet Hoblit's restraint also skewers the movie, the frequent longueurs creating the impression that we're in Stalag VI right alongside Willis and his boys. For while Hart's War gets full marks for effort, it never grips like the best POW movies, and exhibits the U-571/Enigma syndrome of being a new old war flick - a facsimile that looks the part but lacks the heart.