5 DAYS OF WAR
Anchor Bay Films
Reviewed for MovieWeb by Harvey Karten
Directed By: Renny Harlin
Written By: Mikko Alanne, David Battle
Cast: Rupert Friend, Val Kilmer, Andy Garcia, Dean Cain, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Heather Graham
Screened at: NYC, 7/5/11
Opens: August 19, 2011
This is a dramatized coverage of the year 2008 five-day war between Russia and Georgia over the disputed province of South Ossetia-which had broken away from Georgia and declared an unrecognized independence. Finnish Director Renny Harlin ("Die Hard 2," "Cliffhanger") exploits this principal theme of scriptwriters Mikko Alanne and David Battle: a journalist covering the war is determined to get out photos showing Russian brutality to the world. The photos did, in fact, get uploaded, but given how he risked his life, defying Russian and their mercenary units to send the memory card data everywhere, what good did the information do? Most of the media seemed unconcerned about the brutalities, relegating the action to the chattering classes rather than to military action. What's more, the war took place during the Beijing Olympics, and given the frenzy that sports evokes in most of the world, who cares about a few blatant executions of civilians and journalists?
In describing the events surrounding the valuable memory card which journalist Thomas Anders (Rupert Friend) and his photographer Sebastian Ganz (Richard Coyle) are determined to release to human rights groups, the crew wants us to know that the film is dedicated to the five hundred journalists who were killed during the past decade covering wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and perhaps Sudan and other areas. Five hundred unarmed journalists! If you want to see the kind of danger these media people are in, you can't go wrong watching "5 Days of War." It's at least as bloody as Kathryn Bigelow's award-winning "The Hurt Locker," which was released the same year as this film, featuring some spot-on special effects, much of which is video-game style showing Russian jets and choppers and tanks firing missiles helter-skelter at houses, emptying AK-47's at running civilians, now and then lining up civilians for summary execution. What's a war movie without women? Harlin supplies us with the beautiful Tatia (Emmanuelle Chriqui), a Georgian schoolteacher caught with the journalists during the opening moments of the war.
After opening scenes from the Iraq War in 2007, we catch the first atrocity-the bombing of a wedding party with the killing of the groom. We're primed for more barbarism, though the entire film appears to excuse Georgia, considering the former Soviet Republic to be the innocent victim of aggression. Never mind that the first shots (which we do not see) were fired by Georgia in its attempt to retake the secessionist South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Once you suspend enough disbelief about who started and who committed the most atrocities, you can settle in to watch the pyro-dynamics and admire the courage of Thomas Anders, the principal journalist, played by English actor Rupert Friend ("Pride and Prejudice," "The Young Victoria").
The scripters do more than simply tilt the scales of blame, stressing, for example, that the Russians used highly paid mercenaries to do much of the fighting and dying for them, using as symbol of evil the tall, rock-hard emotion-challenged Captain Rezo Avaliani (Johnathon Schaech). Some slack is given, though, with the intro of Col. Demidov (Rade Serbedzija-who shows up in just about every movie within a thousand-mile radius of Serbia)-a guy who plays chess with the captured journalist and ultimately determines that "there has been enough killing," thereby allegedly ending the hostilities while keeping the Russians as an occupation force in Abkhazia and the contested areas of South Ossetia.
This is a razzle-dazzle movie more concerned with firepower and bravery than romance and character development, but who wants to miss scenes of Andy Garcia speaking English with a Georgian accent in the role of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, a good guy by our standards in America since he wants to join NATO and be Western? As for Val Kilmer's conversation while taking a bubble bath, chalk it up to the need for, for, who knows? The film was shot on location in Georgia (we get to see the statue of Stalin, who was born there in Tblisi) and financed by a fund of the Georgian government. Did you still expect a balanced viewpoint?
For a detailed account of the war, go to Wikipedia. Org and request "Russo-Georgian War."
Rated R. 114 minutes. © 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online