5 DAYS OF WAR (2011)
Director: Renny Harlin
Cast: Rupert Friend, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Richard Coyle, Heather Graham, Andy Garcia, Val Kilmer
Runtime: 1 hr 53 mins
Rating: NC-16 (War Violence and Coarse Language)
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Official Website: http://www.fivedaysofwar.com/
Opening Day: 1 March 2012
Synopsis: In this intensely human portrayal of courage under fire, acclaimed director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger) combines heart-pounding action with real human drama, as he tells the riveting story of a war reporter caught behind enemy lines during the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia. As a nation fights for its very survival, a brave and passionate coalition of international reporters and local Georgians risk their lives to tell the true human cost of military conflict. Filmed for six weeks on location, 5 Days Of War is a suspenseful and moving portrait of people who risk their lives every day to report from the front lines.
For a film that invokes Senator Hiram Johnson’s classic quote ‘the first casualty of war is truth’, it is ironic that the first casualty of this account of the brief period of fighting between Russia and the Georgian republic is objectivity. Told entirely from the perspective of the Georgians, and intended to portray the five-day war as an act of aggression by Russia to snatch the breakaway republic of South Ossetia while the world was distracted by the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, it whitewashes the responsibility of the Georgians in favour of clunky melodrama to paint the Georgians as victims.
No wonder really- this political action thriller that tries to be in the vein of ‘Blood Diamond’ and ‘Body of Lies’ was funded by Georgia International Films and made with the full support of the Georgian government and their array of tanks, helicopters and munitions. And to ensure that it reaches a wider audience, the producers have employed Hollywood director Renny Harlin to be at the helm, ostensibly because they have admired his action blockbusters from the ‘90s- ‘Die Hard 2’ and ‘Cliffhanger’ among his biggest hits.
Harlin is however a director of little finesse, and he approaches the biased material from screenwriter Mikko Alane (who will also be writing Oliver Stone’s upcoming film about the My Lai massacre) with about the subtlety as a sledgehammer. The result are plenty of explosions, whether exploding tanks, exploding cars or exploding buildings, but little of the significance of the events gets much in-depth treatment. It’s a shame really, for one can see that in the hands of a less bombastic director, this could have been quite the insightful look at journalism and its power to influence world opinion.
The perspective with which Harlin brings his audience in is that of war reporter Thomas Anders (Rupert Friend), who in the film’s opening minutes loses his lover (an oddly cast Heather Graham) to Iraqi militants. At the behest of a fellow journalist known simply as the Dutchman (Val Kilmer in another inexplicable cameo), Thomas travels to Georgia with his reliable photographer Sebastian Ganz (Richard Coyle) right before the skirmish between Russia and Georgia erupts.
On the first night of the conflict, Thomas meets a beautiful local Tatia (a miscast Emmanuelle Chriqui) who follows them on their journey to document the atrocities committed by the Russians to serve as their interpreter on the premise that they will assist her to locate her family. Against their attempt to bring to light the truth behind enemy lines, an exasperated President Mikheil Saakashvili (Andy Garcia) tries to get international help to stop the impending invasion but finding himself isolated from both the United States as well as the United Nations.
Alane juxtaposes Thomas’ determination to broadcast the footage he and Sebastian had captured with the indifference of the world leaders as expressed through President Saakashvili’s growing frustration at their inaction, and indeed the question of how significant our war journalists who risk life and limb to bring us images and videos of war is a compelling one. Yet Harlin undermines Alane’s efforts by directing the scenes as if he were filming some big-budget summer entertainment, emboldened possibly by the cooperation he had received from the local Georgian authorities where the movie was shot. The mismatch between director and material is even more obvious when he tries to adopt a more documentary-like approach to filming the individual scenes, which sits awkwardly with the money shots of destruction he is evidently more comfortable with.
Harlin fails even more miserably to put a human face to the sufferings, the melodramatic scenes so ineptly filmed that they are almost laughable. Certainly, the human cost of the war is not to be ignored, but Harlin too readily resorts to music cues and slo-mo camera work to hammer across the supposed poignancy, which fails rather abysmally. To inject some narrative into the events, Harlin introduces the Russian colonel Demidov (Rade Serbedzija) and his ruthless deputy who are desperate to get their hands on Thomas’ memory card to destroy evidence of their terrible deeds- but the resolution to this is straight out of a Hollywood playbook of clichés.
The only justice the movie does to the conflict is in its last five minutes, where real-life survivors of the war come before the camera with pictures of their loved ones who have died or gone missing. None of the rest of the movie compares with the power of these simple scenes that put a human face to the tragedy- and while this dramatised account tries to also champion the contributions of war journalists, it embarrasses more than celebrates their achievements. Strip aside the geopolitical message, and even as a war movie a la “Black Hawk Down”, this rarely packs enough action to thrill. You’d better be off reading about the Russia/ Georgia conflict than watching this rendition of it.
(A clumsy attempt at melding Hollywood-style action with geopolitical insights from the Russia/ Georgia war, it is neither exciting nor intelligent enough)
Review by Gabriel Chong
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