Review: 5 Days of War (2011)

5 Days of War (2011)

Directed by: Renny Harlin | 113 minutes | action, drama, war | Actors: Rupert Friend, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Richard Coyle, Heather Graham, Johnathon Schaech, Rade Serbedzija, Andy Garcia, Val Kilmer, Mikko Nousiainen, Mikheil Gomiashvili, Ana Imnadze, Antje Traue, Kenneth Cranham, Dean Cain, Sergo Shvedkov, Steven Robertson, Alan McKenna, Giorgi Tsaava, Lasha Kankava, Beka Tabukashvili, Lasha Okreshidze, Kakha Mikiashvili, Natia Metreveli, Gia Kusikashvili, Lia Suluashvili, Koka Shanava, Anna Walton, Liako Gogidze, Kakha Gogidhalze, Giorgiura In Javagova, Giorgiura Kipshidxia Rostom Lortkipanidze, Luke Albright, Jino Jiniuzashvili

Mediocre action-cum-war film that thinks it says something important about a recent conflict between Russia and Georgia, but gets bogged down in a meaningless slurry of explosions and hail of bullets. Finnish director Renny Harlin knows how to shoot action scenes and those who are not too critical will undoubtedly enjoy themselves. The problem is, it’s very, very hard as a viewer not to be critical. The acting can hardly have that predicate, the plot is predictable and simplifies a complicated conflict in such a way that it turns out to be suspiciously one-sided.

Obviously, it takes a Westerner—preferably an American—as the protagonist, as in countless movies, to apparently give the audience someone to identify with. It is the American journalist Thomas Anders (played by the Englishman Rupert Friend with a not too convincing accent) through whose eyes we experience the (short) war. To give him some motivation, something terrible happens to Thomas in a prologue, which adds an extra dimension to his actions in Georgia. It’s screenwriting for dummies and at the very least shows an extreme laziness.

What actually happened in the summer of 2008? Opinions – also internationally – are strongly divided on this. What is clear in any case is that Russia and Georgia, which was one of the former Soviet republics until the fall of communism, clashed. The two countries have had a complicated relationship for some time, with heated quarrels, including about the status of certain border areas. There are insurgent regions (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and the region is a powder keg, with the war in 2008 not the first time that the different parties took up arms. The main protagonists are still arguing over who started it. A diplomatic envoy from the European Union later determined that all the warring parties are to blame and have violated international law.

In this complex situation, the action of the film takes place, but only from the perspective of the Georgians. Both the trailer and the credits echo the saying “in times of war the truth is the first casualty” (“In war, the first casualty is the truth”). is not as black and white as it is depicted here. Or they were (the film was reportedly made possible in part by Georgian backers) and they didn’t care. It’s so blatant from the start that the Georgians are the “good guys” that it almost becomes propaganda.

During the war, the Dutch cameraman Stan Storimans, who worked for RTL Nieuws, was killed. That knowledge makes watching ‘5 Days of War’ extra wry, because objective reporting in the film is completely unimportant. There is supposedly ethical and heroic action by Anders and his cameraman Sebastian (Richard Coyle), but precisely because the film is so biased, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Can you hold a director to higher standards when making a movie about a real war? And while the war scenes look spectacular, they were clearly shot with entertainment on the retina? The makers are eager to show that Georgia is not to blame and is a victim of the evil separatists and the pernicious Russians, but they are so happy to show the violence of war that it teeters on the edge of tastelessness.

Here and there a lot of familiar faces pop up in the film. For example, a puffy Val Kilmer can be seen as expired journo “The Dutchman” and Andy Garcia can be seen as Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. It’s not exactly the role he was destined to play for Garcia, even though they were said to be very similar during promotion. Now that resemblance can be called superficial at best, but who knows, it may also have played a role that Saakashvili is a big fan of Andy Garcia as an actor. (By the way, the president is married to the Dutch Sandra Roelofs)

The locations and landscapes (if not blown up or shot) seem to have come straight out of a holiday brochure and are a barely disguised advertisement for Georgia. As mentioned, the action is expertly executed, with hectic camera work that looks realistic and there are a number of tense moments. After a while, however, you as a viewer know. Another big blast, another narrow escape from the bad guys, including Daniil (Mikko Nousiainen), a “bad guy” template and a Russian colonel (Rade Serbedzija, who has built a career on variations of the same role) who Thomas and his friends are all too eager to get hold of. No one leaves here with an unblemished reputation, especially Harlin, who is far removed from his heyday. Admittedly, the film has its good moments, but they are mainly technical. ‘5 Days of War’ is not as bad as ‘Cuttroat Island’, it is certainly not ‘Die Hard 2’ or ‘Cliffhanger’.

‘5 Days of War’ will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on December 6, 2011.

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