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5 Days of War (A Movie Review)

5 Days of War

5 Days of War

5 DAYS OF WAR (2011)

Starring Rupert Friend, Val Kilmer, Andy Garcia, Dean Cain, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Heather Graham, Richard Coyle, Rade Serbedzija, Johnathon Schaech, Kenneth Cranham, Antje Traue, Mikko Nousiainen, Mikheil Gomiashvili and Anna Walton.

Screenplay by Mikko Alanne.

Directed by Renny Harlin.

Distributed by Anchor Bay Films.   120 minutes.  Rated R.

Even before there was a Michael Bay, Renny Harlin was Michael Bay.

Known in the 1990s for his slam-bang action thrillers – low on characterization but high on explosions – Harlin was one of the biggest names in Hollywood for a brief, hot period.  The Finnish director was behind the camera on several big hits (and quite a few duds) including Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and The Adventures of Ford Fairlane.  He was part of a Hollywood power couple – stealing Geena Davis away from Jeff Goldblum during her Oscar years.

Then it all started to fall apart, when his pirate swashbuckler Cutthroat Island (starring Davis) became a historic bomb: literally the biggest money loss on a film ever.  Harlin’s career and marriage survived that bump in the road with the cult-ish hit The Long Kiss Goodnight (also starring Davis)but Hollywood never totally regained its trust in the auteur (nor did Davis, who left him in 1998).  After the decent Deep Blue Sea in 1999, Harlin descended into a career funk – his biggest titles of the new millennium have been the awesomely bad prequel Exorcist: The Beginning (in fairness, he was brought in late to save a doomed project which had already been fumbled by Paul Schrader) and 12 Rounds, a vanity production for WWE wrestler John Cena.

Apparently Harlin felt that what his career needed was a down and dirty career change-up a la his old contemporary Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker.

Sad to say, 5 Days of War is not Harlin’s Hurt Locker.  But it is one of his better films in quite some time.  Faint praise, I know, but at least you feel Harlin is trying to say something again, which is something.   Even in his best days, he was never as skilled a filmmaker as Bigelow.

5 Days of War is a look at the brief, but very violent 2008 war between Russia and Georgia.  It is told very much from the point of view of the Georgians – and I can’t claim to know enough about the particular war to know if the movie is indeed giving the whole story.  It should be noted, though, that some of the money used to finance the film is from Georgian backers, so it might be somewhat biased.  Then again, it may be completely accurate.  Again, I can’t pretend to know for sure.

The story is about two international journalists for CNN (Rupert Friend and Richard Coyle).  After surviving a deadly booby trap attack in Iraq (interestingly, the character played by Heather Graham, who gets fourth billing here, is killed off in the very first scene) the guys are sent to Georgia to look into some unrest – and turn out to be the only journalists around when the country is attacked by Russia.

The journalists capture the only footage of the Russian troops and planes wantonly killing civilians and bombing neighborhoods.  Then they must find a way to get the footage out to the world – a world that apparently doesn’t care about the atrocities – while avoiding the Russian soldiers determined to kill them.

There is some very fine war footage here (if occasionally overdone – Renny Harlin can’t help doing everything with an exclamation point).  It is scary and disturbing and if it does paint an accurate picture of the skirmish then the Russian government does have some explaining it needs to do.

In the meantime, they periodically cut away to a very sober-looking Andy Garcia as the President of Georgia, who spouts speeches about saving his people.

Also looking a bit awkwardly out of place is Val Kilmer, who pops up periodically as a heavily-drinking war correspondent who makes metaphors about toothless whores just a bit too much for comfort.

However, it is the war footage that will get any real notice and which saves this slightly muddled film from cliché.  5 Days of War is not a classic war drama of the likes of Hurt Locker or something like Platoon, but it is heartfelt and mostly compelling.

It’s certainly a hell of a lot better than Michael Bay would have done with the same material.

Ken Sharp

Copyright ©2011 All rights reserved. Posted: August 19, 2011.

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