5 Days of war seems like an eternity if you are in the audience.
Director Renny Harlan is quoted as saying, "In Europe, film making is perceived as an art form with marginal business possibilities, and in the US, film making is a business with marginal artistic possibilities."The man is true to his word. He has the perfect action film with marginal artistic aspirations, and marginal artistic results. The result is one of the best all-out, slam-bam, thank-you-ma’am wartime blood fests ever made. In spite of that, it is a film that will have you checking your watch and hoping the ending comes sooner rather than later.
The fault is not with the special effects, which are spectacular. Nor will any viewer fault the unflinching portrayal of wartime terrorist atrocities that will appeal to the slasher film aficionado and the part time sadist, alike. Old women are shot, weddings are attacked with rockets and dead bodies are shown in every conceivable way, shape and form. The R rating for “strong bloody war violence and atrocities” is for real.
As in Harlin’s past films (sequels for “Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Exorcist” and “Die Hard”) there is lots of gore and almost a complete absence of sex; the director has plumbed the depths of American film taste and come up with the perfect formula. The soundtrack is rapid-fire pop music and the actors are rapid-fire pop characters.
Rupert Friend plays Thomas Anders, a war reporter who opts out of the simmering stew-pot of Iraq into the secessionist wildfire that is the South Ossetia region of Georgia. The film starts with the bloody, neo-slasher flick machine-gunning of Anders and his party in Iraq and follows with similar sequences in South Ossetia.
This film fails to make an impression because there is no foundation to the violence. The South Ossetian War (aka Russian-Georgian War) is an almost-impossibly complex morass of sectarian and political infighting. Simply stated, the film does nothing to help understand the situation. It attempts to define one side as the good and the other side as bad but it is hard to buy what they are selling. The good guys are Georgian, Tatia (Emmanuelle Chriqui), and her family who are decimated by the Russians and their drooling, psychopathic mercenaries.
Unfortunately, director Harlin and screenwriters Mikko Alanne and David Battle abandon their efforts to bring sense to the conflict and show the Russians simply shelling, bombing and machine-gunning Georgians at random. Head bad guy Colonel Demidov (Rade Serbedjiza) mumbles something about how is son was killed in Afghanistan and therefore people should die.
This seems to inject sectarian overtones into the film which, combined with the opening Iraq scenes, lead us astray into sectarian conflict territory. In fact, the war was almost entirely non-sectarian. It is a continuation of the 100-year-old conflict between Bolsheviks and Menshevics that caused the political isolation of Georgia from the mainstream USSR.
The film’s plot meanders along until about half way through when the heroes try to smuggle out the memory chip with the digital recording of the atrocities. The idea is to show the world how the psychopathic mercenary killer Daniil (Mikko Nousiainen) is torturing the old ladies of Ossetia.
Unfortunately for them, the world is more interested in how psychopathic killers are torturing old ladies in New York, London and Paris. By the end of this film, the audience is mostly interested in seeing one final climax of flying body parts and getting out of the theatre.
If Renny Harlan cashed in his chips for this glitteri cast of Val Kilmer, Andy Garcia and Heather Graham, he made a big mistake with this boner of a screenplay. The film has all the splatter but none of the empathy of “Blackhawk Down” and similar splashy war/action dramas. The acting seems hobbled by the mean nature of the writing and the heroic characters come across more like the alcohol fogged frat boys of “Bang Bang Club.”
Somewhere between art and business there has to be a workable compromise. The filmmakers did not get it in “5 Days of War.”
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Directed by: Renny Harlin
Written by: Mikko Alanne (screenplay), David Battle
Starring: Rupert Friend, Val Kilmer and Andy Garcia
Release Date: August 19, 2011
MPAA: Rated R for strong bloody war violence and atrocities, and for pervasive language