Sunday, July 24, 2011

New Release Review: 5 Days of War (Renny Harlin, 2011)

5 Days of War is an action-packed international thriller from Finnish filmmaker Renny Harlin. Harlin's patchy but noteworthy career ranges from the solid action blockbuster (Die Hard 2 and The Long Kiss Goodnight) to the forgettable disaster (12 Rounds). His most recent film, which was originally funded on a budget of 12 million dollars from a Georgian Governement fund, is based on the true events of the devastating five-day conflict between Russia and the Georgian Republic in August 2008. It chooses, predominantly, to focus on the fictionalized (and at times ridiculous) account of a renegade American journalist, Thomas Anders (Rupert Friend, The Young Victoria), against the backdrop of this conflict. 

The events transpire in August of 2008, a month where the world’s attention was directed towards the Beijing Olympics. With Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (Andy Garcia, City Island) seeking support from European nations to their west in a desperate attempt to maintain Georgia’s independence, Russia primes itself for an invasion of the geopolitically significant Georgian province of South Ossetia. Anders is a veteran war correspondent who has a history of risking his life to report from the battlefield. This is relayed in a brief, early sequence in Iraq, which establishes that Anders has lost colleagues in the past and that he has a dedicated partnership with his British cameraman, Sebastian Ganz (Richard Coyle, Coupling), who joins him in Georgia. Lured by the rumors of a brewing conflict between the nations, relayed by an on-site maverick journalist (a washed-up and overweight Val Kilmer, The Doors), the men find themselves at a local wedding and subsequently caught between enemy lines when the invasion starts, seeking the help of a local woman (Emmanuel Chriqui, Entourage), whose family fall victim to the violence. Anders is determined to not only survive, but also inform the blind world of the truth about the atrocities taking place.

I really admired the decision to highlight the willingness of journalists to risk their lives on the frontline, but some of the character decisions are highly questionable. While I feel quite bad criticising a film that has so boldly taken on this recent and largely unexplored conflict and heightened its realism by actually filming in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, it really isn't very good. None of the characters are in any way explored and none of the performances are particularly noteworthy. Andy Garcia and Rupert Friend are the best from a cast which also features Heather Graham and Dean Cain in minuscule roles. The screenplay by Mikko Alanne is, well, awful. Most of the dialogue, which is light and oddly comic in woefully out-of-place moments, functions primarily as political exposition trying to explain to the audience why the conflict exists, and as a re-iteration (sometimes exactly) of the events unfolding. The banter between Friend and Coyle is really corny too.

5 Days of War unabashedly sympathizes with Georgia and is strictly anti-Russian. The invaders are reduced to little more than big tanks and heartless and relentless jet bombers, and Georgia as the unfortunate and innocent victims of Russian geopolitical outreach. The film even concludes with Georgian citizens photographed in a studio holding up pictures of deceased loved ones, proving the propaganda angle was the primary motivation for this film. The qualms I have with political war films like this are that the characters never seem to be portrayed as being caught up in the much larger struggle. They seem to exist in their own tale, with the conflict and violence existing the way it does to aid the storytelling. At one point the main troupe find themselves captured by the Russian generals leading the invasion. Having found out that they witnessed the cold-blooded assassination of some locals, they become preoccupied with finding the hidden memory card with the stored footage. This ultimately becomes Anders' motivation; to reclaim the memory card and upload it to a network willing to air it. A bond-like Russian henchman makes it his mission to ensure that doesn't happen.

The script also makes it necessary for them to enter an evacuated city in search of a means to upload their footage. Of course the embassy is locked and they now find themselves trapped there. Why were they there? For no other purpose than to serve up a good story. For a film that is set on shocking its audience with the atrocities, it sure does a good job of glorifying the escapades of the journalists, who evade fireball after fireball in action-hero, slow-motion style. While some of the action scenes are well staged and captured, every action film clichĂ© imaginable pops up too. 

Characters that have no business in this film are thrown in to enhance the drama, and characters that are deemed unnecessary are unceremoniously killed off. Having said that, countless dues ex machinas and inexplicable plot conveniences ensure the survival of the key characters. They even throw in that dreaded romance between Friend and Chriqui. Look, it isn't that great, and while the sensitivity of the politics would have been better suited to a more reserved director, if you are after a high-octane, adrenalin-inducing film that tackles some pretty harrowing recent events, it's worth a look on DVD.

My Rating: 1 1/2 Stars (D)


  1. I've heard some good things about this one. Apparently you feel a bit differently.

    I'll read the review after I see it ... comes here in a month or so.

  2. Wow, another bad movie from Renny Harlin that actually had the potential to be decent.

    With the exception of Cliffhanger, Die Hard 2, and The Long Kiss Goodnight. He pretty much makes some very shitty movies.

  3. Yeah, I had no idea going into this the films that Harlin had made before. It doesn't surprise me. I really feel bad for being harsh (not sure why), but it's propaganda is so biased, and there are so many ridiculous moments, that it's hard to ignore.

    It was genuinely effective in creating the atmosphere of a war zone, but this is undone by screenwriting incompetence, and probably budget constrains too..