Tanks, but no tanks
By John DeFore
Friday, Aug 19, 2011
A tired old quote about truth being the first casualty of war is a strange way to start "5 Days of War," an overwrought drama that, whatever its good intentions, could hardly be said to aim for objectivity in its account of the 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia.
Directed by Renny Harlin, whose career has fallen far from its action-flick peak of "Die Hard 2" and "Cliffhanger," the film is the single production of Georgia International Films, a company that arranged the loan of government buildings and munitions for shooting. Unsurprisingly given its origins, no "fog of war" exists here, just brave Georgian soldiers and helpless citizens facing Russians whose rogue, tattooed gunmen happily shoot grandmothers without provocation.
We see these atrocities through the eyes of Thomas, a correspondent who (with his cameraman, Sebastian) gets a massacre on tape and spends the film trying to persuade apathetic American networks to run the story. Rupert Friend maintains his dignity as Thomas, but he's never very credible; though we see him swap combat yarns with fellow journalists, he just doesn't project the intelligence and curiosity the job demands. He spends much more time looking haunted by the death of an old girlfriend, a loss the script dwells on in hopes of lending depth to Thomas's encounter with Tatia, a Georgian he hopes to keep safe through the invasion.
Harlin's roots show throughout the picture, as he films real-life horrors with a bombast better suited to summer entertainment. Cars explode and somersault through the air; victims contort into crucifixion poses as they are riddled with bullets; action slows down and goes silent so a heavy-handed score can work its magic. Cliches abound, from "save yourself!" martyrdom to a scene of hero and villain playing chess while the latter waxes philosophical about combat.
Andy Garcia, affecting a deeply unconvincing accent, portrays Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, a bit of casting only slightly odder than hiring Heather Graham to appear in the first few minutes before being killed in an ambush. The film is littered with washed-up stars, in fact, presumably cast because the producers thought their message would reach Americans only if they could get some famous people involved.
Sadly, that may be true in this case. But "5 Days of War" suffers all the failings of Hollywoodization without capturing the compelling pathos its subject deserves.
Contains strong bloody war violence and atrocities and pervasive language.