Monday, December 25, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Hart's War (2002) - Up the Stakes: A Good Twist & Moral Quandry

[Quick Summary: In a "trial" to amuse the senior German officer, an American POW must defend a black POW who is accused of murdering a third POW.]

Two thoughts:

1) I imagine this was a tough novel to adapt:
- It's a war film with political and racial issues.
- There's a very large ensemble cast.
- There is a lot of material to cover, so it takes a while (40+ pgs) to set up.*
- It's a mystery and a courtroom drama.

2) A good twist in the story and/or moral quandry really up the stakes and conflict.

This script has both.

In the scene below, Tommy Hart is summoned to the office of Commander Visser.

- Visser is the enemy, but....he's offering help? (Good twist!)
- The writer set up a tough decision for Tommy: either betray his beliefs for the benefit of his client, or stick by his beliefs and doom his client. (Good moral quandry!)


Well-appointed...but those appointments are all starting to show their age. Visser sits, reading Huckleberry Finn (in English, of course) as Tommy is escorted in.

VISSER: Ah, Lieutenant! How are you?

Cell Guard #2 clicks his heels at Visser and exits. Visser lowers his book. Tommy looks around, wary.

VISSER: Not too well, I imagine. That was quite a beating you took today. Sit.

Tommy sits, eyeing the copy of Huckleberry Finn.

VISSER: You know this book? It's wonderful....And after watching that trial all day, I found myself longing for the tales of "Nigger Jim!"

TOMMY: Major, I have witnesses to prepare for...

VISSER: Yes. This has been very much on mind. In fact it's why I wanted to see you.

He crosses to a bookcase, grabs a MILITARY MANUAL, and hands it to Tommy: "The U.S. Army Officers' Handbook of Military Law and Court-Martial Procedure." Tommy eyes it, surprised.

TOMMY: How did you --

VISSER: We keep a library of all American military manuals. I thought this one might be of particular use to you. (pleased) As I'd said, my sense of fair play...

Tommy pauses. Something's feeling a little Faustian here...

TOMMY: I don't think I can accept this, Major. We have a policy about fraternizing with the --

VISSER: You walk back in there unarmed and your client is going to face a firing squad. Would that be better?

Tommy's wavering now. They both know it.

VISSER: Read it. You might learn something.

On Tommy, we...
                                                                                                   CUT TO:"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I think war films tend to blend together unless something sets it apart.  Here, the unusual structural elements make it memorable.

Hart's War (2002)(2nd draft revised, dated 8/16/00)
by Billy Ray
Based on the novel by John Katzenbach - and drafts by Jeb Stuart and Terry George

*Yes, it was necessary. No, I don't know if it could be sped up faster than it was. No, this does not make me happy, but it is the reality of screenplay form vs. novel.

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