Review Date: February 16, 2002
Director: Gregory Hoblit
Writer: Billy Ray, Terry George
Producers: Gregory Hoblit, David Foster
Bruce Willis as William McNamara
Collin Farrell as Tommy Hart
Terrence Howard as Lincoln Scott
A senator's son with a cushy WWII "office gig" is captured by the enemy and placed inside a POW camp with thousands of other American soldiers. While incarcerated, the man is asked to defend a black American soldier for the murder of a fellow countryman. It isn't long before stinkier details of the affair start making their way into the proceedings as the war continues all around them.
A surprisingly good movie, this film manages to combine various thematic elements into one entertaining whole, with touches of a war movie, touches of a courtroom drama and touches of a film about racism in America. Yeah, you heard me...despite being a little heavy-handed at times, this movie brought some originality to the idiocy that is racism, by correlating it to the war, and by pointing out its irrational nature with one specifically great example given by a black officer who remarks how even the German POWs got to eat in certain diners in his small town back home in America, while he, a man fighting to protect his country, still could not do so. An extremely sobering way of looking at the racism that was still very prevalent during the 1940s and certainly one which historians could not deny. But this film isn't only about that, in fact, it works on various levels. First off, the movie is gorgeous to look at, especially its first 15 minutes or so, when the blues and whites of its surroundings are spectacularly photographed. Once in the POW camp, the film switches gears, turning into a "prisoners of war" type film, but only until the racism card is dealt, at which point a murder comes into play and then a courtroom sequence starts up until...well, you get the picture. Actually, that's one of the things that surprised me the most about this movie (and that I liked the most), and that's unlike its trailer, the film actually was interesting and flowed quite evenly from scene one until the very end. And even though it ran over two hours, it barely felt like it did because there was always something going on and the main characters, were believable enough for you to invest your time.
I will admit that the film's basic set-up of American POWs in a German camp being given soooooo much leeway and leniency on many things (they have their own theater???) was definitely unbelievable and took me out of the film every now and then (why on God's green Earth would the German colonel feel the need to allow his prisoners to hold their own trial in his camp...it makes so little sense!), but overall, I let most of that slide, since the goings-on themselves, were quite engaging. Things take a turn to the MEN OF HONOR route near the film's conclusion, at which point, several other rabbits are pulled out of many different hats, but I for one, continued to be entertained, and yes, even a little teary-eyed during one particularly poignant speech. Terrence Howard was the man reciting that speech and props go out to him for giving it just the right amount of emotion. The German commandant, Marcel Iures, was also rock-solid and believable, despite his character's overly nice behavior towards his prisoners being a little too farfetched for my taste. Dude, you can humor them from time to time, but there's a war going on around you...inviting your enemies in for drinks might not be the best strategy. Willis and Farrell were also both good in their respective parts, but nothing to specifically write home about, although I did like the fact that Willis' character was so ambiguous throughout (good move!) In the end, folks who dig on films about honor among men and all that jazz will surely be taken in by the proceedings inside this movie reel. But if you're expecting action, as the film's trailer might have you believe, see BLACK HAWK DOWN instead, because this puppy ain't about that.
(c) 2016 Berge Garabedian