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5 Days of War

5 DAYS OF WAR

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Renny Harlin

Cast: Rupert Friend, Richard Coyle, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Andy Garcia, Johnathon Schaech, Rade Serbedzija, Val Kilmer

MPAA Rating: R (for strong bloody war violence and atrocities, and for pervasive language)

Running Time: 1:53

Release Date: 8/19/11 (limited); 9/2/11 (wider)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 1, 2011

The nation of Georgia and the South Ossetia region have been battling at various levels of violence for 20 years, which is a detail left out of 5 Days of War.  That lack of greater context is strange, considering that Mikko Alanne's screenplay goes out of its way to provide a political perspective to the conflict at hand through scenes involving a head of state.  It's a one-sided view of a much-contested and convoluted clash, and while some might have a problem with that fact (The movie does make a fair enough argument for taking sides), the more important concern is how confused the movie is about where it stands regarding itself.

5 Days of War opens with a dedication to war reporters killed in the past decade and closes with testimonials of survivors of the 2008 South Ossetia War between Georgian forces and a coalition of Russian military and separatist paramilitary troops.  In retrospect, those bookends seem almost apologetic for what occurs in between, presenting its protagonist journalists as ill-defined types performing heroic daring-do and the Georgian refugees taken under their wing as a plot device.

The movie opens in Iraq in 2007, where Thomas Anders (Rupert Friend), his cameraman Sebastian Ganz (Richard Coyle), and two other colleagues, including a woman Anders is dating named Miriam (Heather Graham), are on their way to a secret meeting that results in an ambush  and the deaths of the two other colleagues.  A year later, Anders is depressed, without work, and drinking a bit too much.  Dutchman (Val Kilmer), an old acquaintance and fellow journalist, suggests he and Sebastian take a trip to Georgia, where Dutchman suspects violence is imminent.  With only Dutchman's team of reporters there to cover it, the story will be a scoop.

There is little to be told of Anders and his associates.  Alanne introduces Dutchman and his co-workers as a means of criticizing the media's inattention to travesties of the recent past, with the genocide in Rwanda being a particularly sour note for them all.  It is, of course, blunt foreshadowing to the response, or lack thereof, their coverage will eventually obtain but does little to push these ancillary characters forward as anything other than an idealized group of unappreciated truth-seekers.

Anders and Sebastian fare only slightly better.  Sebastian is the restrained comic relief to Anders weariness and the catalyst for such observations that his partner is still reeling over Miriam's death.  Anders is somehow a man who says he is without any driving beliefs but who still feels driven to act in the advancement of the same concept he denies.  It's an odd sort of cynicism that Alanne seems to insert for vague internal conflict, and Friend's rather bland performance doesn't aid the inconsistency.

When war breaks out (The reason is still in debate, though, here, Alanne assumes Russian and separatist instigation while bringing up the uncertainty), Anders and Sebastian are having a respite at a local establishment, watching a wedding.  Russian planes bomb the area, leaving behind dead and wounded attendees, and Anders and Sebastian take it upon themselves to rush members of Tatia's (Emmanuelle Chriqui) to the nearby hospital.

From there, the movie declines into a series of chase sequences, directed with wobbly camera movements and messy cuts by Renny Harlin, as the reporters, Tatia, and what's left of her family travel from war zone to war zone.  Two Ossetian soldiers—a battle-weary colonel (Rade Serbedzija) and a murderous captain (Johnathon Schaech)—personify the viciousness at hand; they transition from broad types to seemingly unstoppable villains dead-set on retrieving a memory card upon which Sebastian captured a brutal execution of two local officials and a raid on a village.  The cat-and-mouse games between them become outlandish in the midst of the more serious-minded depiction of brutality, especially during a final showdown in the shadows of metropolis in the process of being bombed, where everything seems to halt so that Anders can have his redemptive moment of realization.

This only leaves the political side of things, represented by scenes involving the President of Georgia (a constantly tearful Andy Garcia) trying to seek help from what he hopes to be his allies in the West.  On the one hand, the scenes provide necessary background; on the other, they stop everything dead in its tracks to iterate one point or another.

Each fragment is reduced to its least complicated terms, and, yes, that means there's a big speech at the end to sum up the lesson.  By that point, the focus of 5 Days of War has wavered so often that we're left wondering what argument, beyond the simplest ones, Harlin and Alanne are making.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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