Director Renny Harlin's Five Days of War ends with one of most exploitative, tasteless moments I've seen in recent years. After shoving a blatantly overblown fable down our throats, the film trots out real people who lost loved ones in the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. It's heartbreaking but also sickening that a film of such low pedigree would dare to confuse reality with the fiction that Harlin fetishistically portrays, obsessing over crane shots and sweeping camera moves glorifying the Russian armed forces, here portrayed by vehicles lent by Georgia - considering that the $12 million budget came primarily from Georgian sources (including a possible government fund), it's not surprising that what we get is slick and mindless propoganda.
Opening with the quote "The first casualty of war is the truth," Harlin's film proceeds to almost gleefully trample all over that adage. With the help of a brainless screenplay by Mikko Alanne, adapted from a prior script by David Battle, Harlin tackles subject matter ill suited to his bombastic style. Coming off the John Cena starrer 12 Rounds, the filmmaker clearly wants to aspire to a higher standard, but damn if his own trademarks don't get the best of him. The cleanly shot action is impressive in parts, but leaves a consistently sour taste short of vomit in your mouth since all the lovingly lensed war ongoings are animalistic rapist Russian militia laying siege to the angelic Georgian countryside and populace.
It's important to make a distinction going forward: this writer doesn't hold the Russian military faultless in this conflict - but from little knowledge I have of the 2008 war, the Georgian forces and their charge on South Ossetia gets the short shrift, and the film sticks close to the Georgian version of how events played out. While hangdog president Mikheil Saakashvili (Andy Garcia, featuring an accent) wrings his hands and sobs through dialogue, Georgian civilians are decimated by wild dogs that slaughter the elderly and rape and pillage villages, walking out with whatever they can get their hands on. It's a disservice both to Russian people and Georgians to be reduced to such blatant stereotypes, mindless metaphors that are either spending bullets or taking them.
In the midst of this is the story of emotionally damaged report Thomas Anders (Rupert Friend, who spends most of the film running around with a bloody nose looking every bit Orlando Bloom). After a brief aside in Iraq establishing the inciting incident that causes Anders to spiral off into stereotypical loner land, he heads to Georgia with friend and cameraman Sebastian Ganz (Richard Coyle, struggling in vain against a sidekick role). Soon after they land and creep closer to the conflict, a wedding is caught under fire and Anders ends up with Tatia (Emmanuelle Chriqui, wisely but startlingly avoiding an accent) in tow as the journalists head back into the fray in order to capture the war as it unfolds. After they witness a senseless killing by Russian militia, they must get out alive despite the efforts of a colonel (Rade Serbedzija, what are you doing?!) and his super-evil, tattooed Cossack henchman (Mikko Nousiainen).
It's more ridiculous than it sounds, and by the time a Dutch/chubby Val Kilmer poses for a smiling photo with our protags, you've surrendered all hope of witnessing a glimpse of intelligence and accepted Anders' messianic transformation from an emotionally void reporter-for-hire with a thousand mile stare to sacrificial lamb, willing to die for the truth to get out. Friend doesn't sell the transformation ad the film winds down with a miraculous set of occurrences that feel insulting at best. When Harlin trots out the actual survivors, real people clutching photographs of their loved ones, it only amplifies the falsehoods of the film. A disservice to all involved in the conflict and especially the victims, it's a real stinker.
A definitively solid, occasionally impressive transfer, presented in 2.35:1 widescreen. Colors are vibrant despite the gritty greys of wartime and there don't appear any major or minor artifacts. An impressive transfer for a poor film.
Presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1 or (bizarrely) Spanish Mono, the mix features clean dialogue amid gunfire and immersive and impacting sound effects. In the larger scenes, featuring the Russian assault, the mix truly shines while a chase late into the film gives your speakers a workout.
A commentary featuring Harlin allows the director to distinguish between events actual and fabricated. Considering some of the third act plot conveniences, it truly is an unnecessary extra.
Also included are eleven minutes of deleted scenes and a trailer for the film.
This is an embarrassing excuse for a consciousness-raising film whose message gets muddled by the glorified action beats. Please, Skip It.
The best of the five boroughs is now represented. Brooklyn in the house! I'm a hardworking film writer, blogger, boyfriend and hopeful Corgi owner. Find me on Twitter @markzhur and on Tumblr at Our Elaborate Plans...